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

 

 

Machine Head’s “Catharsis”: Four Singles Deep

Guys, Machine Head are about to be polarizing again. I couldn’t be more excited.

Since the much-maligned Nu Metal detours that nearly destroyed this band’s career in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Machine Head’s last fifteen years have been nothing but smooth sailing, both critically and commercially – 2003’s Through the Ashes of Empires was the ferocious comeback record that brought them back from the dead, 2007’s The Blackening was labeled a modern Thrash “masterpiece” by well, several pretty important people (e.g. James fucking Hetfield), and 2011’s Unto the Locust and 2014’s Bloodstone & Diamonds were also pretty much unilaterally well received. Well, the buck stops here. Enter the Bay Area titans’ ninth LP, Catharsis.

 It’s not even out yet and everyone’s already up in arms. For God’s sake, Blabbermouth reviewed the record and gave it a 5.5/10. I haven’t read the actual review (because I prefer to read, you know, WRITING…not whatever those hacks on that site try to pass off as music criticism), but on a site that gives everything a 9.5, a 5.5. is like a 0.

So far, the general public has only been made privy to four of the album’s fifteen tracks, and personally, I think the debate is just getting started. Based on what I’m hearing, I still think Catharsis has a chance to be good. I really do. Machine Head are clearly taking some risks, but that’s not inherently a bad thing. It’s too early to tell whether all of this vitriol is justified.

I’m just excited as hell to review this album – I can tell that it’s gonna create a big fissure in the group’s fanbase, and that whole process of watching everybody fight it out and figuring out what side you fall on…well, it doesn’t get any more fun than that. Look out for the full review coming soon to my YouTube channel!

In the meantime, here are my thoughts on the four pre-album singles, in the order they were released:

Beyond the Pale

Released back in mid-November, “Beyond the Pale” was the public’s first taste of Catharsis, and it was immediately greeted with a tidal wave of negativity, particularly regarding the main riff’s striking similarity to the Strapping Young Lad classic, “Love?”. Personally, the whole plagiarism thing actually didn’t phase me – what did bother me was how quickly the riff gets watered down by such incessant repetition (after all, it’s used for the verses AND the chorus). And sadly, that riff is the only memorable aspect of this otherwise underwhelming single. The pre-chorus is sluggish, the dual harmonic guitar solo could’ve been recycled from any of the band’s last four records, and lyrics like “I found my heroes/the freaks and zeroes” are a turn-off as well. Though far from a disaster, “Beyond the Pale” was not a good first look.

Catharsis

Despite feeling like the Internet is constantly looking over my shoulder and shaming me for it, I have been enjoying the fuck out of the title track. Not only is it far and away the best of these four singles, it’s an excellent Machine Head song period. With an inspired vocal performance from Robb Flynn (who seesaws between the heavy and melodic like the seasoned veteran he is), an infectious verse riff, a rousing breakdown, and a future staple for live sing-a-longs (“can you feel my Catharsis?”), this one is a home run. And to be quite frank, for all the talk about Machine Head changing their sound, “Catharsis” does very little to tamper with the band’s formula. This is classic Machine Head. Everyone who says otherwise is buggin’.

Bastards

So “Bastards”, which I recently used to make a larger point about music and politics, might be the most “different” track of Machine Head’s entire career. The divisive anti-Trump lyrics aside, the way this song begins by layering spoken-word vocals, folky acoustic guitars and finger-tapped electric guitars is undeniably unique. And to complicate things further, the tune is based around one of the poppiest chord progressions in all of music – so if it occasionally feels like a Pop song, that’s because it was written like one.

I had no idea how to feel about this little ditty for a solid week, but after about 25 fucking listens, I’ve finally decided that I like it. Sure, I could definitely do without the “no no no no” bridge, and I could do without the good guy/bad guy liberalisms, but the messages that this track ultimately sends – messages of love, inclusivity and optimism in the face of this nation’s uncertain future – are something I can get behind 100 percent. And, let’s be honest, when Flynn sings “don’t let the bastards grind ya down”, I can’t help smile as I think of Lemmy from Motorhead grunting that same refrain on the band’s classic Iron Fist album.

Kaleidoscope

Is the cringe-inducing “get your middle fingers in the air refrain” a tough pill to swallow? Sure. Is the hand clapping that goes along with it even worse? Definitely. But in between the cracks, “Kaleidoscope” does manage to squeeze in some trademark Machine Head riffing – the rhythm guitars bring a walloping Thrash/Groove Metal mixture and even throw in some of their signature “alarm clock” harmonics in the bridge for good measure. I also enjoy how Flynn and Co. are not afraid to add a little grandeur to the song in the form of some tastefully placed key and string parts. Though it’s not without its low points, overall “Kaleidoscope” comes out on top for me.

Here’s Every Single 2017 Year-End List I Made

Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2017 (Full Post Here)

10. The Autobiography – Vic Mensa

9. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music – 2 Chainz

8. Flower Boy – Tyler, The Creator

7. Captain California – Murs

6. 4Eva is a Mighty Long Time – Big K.R.I.T.

5. No Dope on Sundays – CyHi The Prynce

4. Last Call – Rittz

3. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

2. Trial by Fire – Yelawolf

1. All the Beauty in This Whole Life – Brother Ali

 

Top 10 Worst Albums of 2017 (In No Particular Order) [Full Video Here]

Suicide Silence – Suicide Silence

Memories…Do Not Open – The Chainsmokers

Madness – All That Remains

Kids in Love – Kygo

Kaskade Christmas – Kaskade

Judas – Fozzy

Double Duchess – Fergie

Issa Album – 21 Savage

Bloom – Machine Gun Kelly

17 – XXXTentacion

 

Top 20 Metal Albums of 2017 (Full Video Here)

20. The Sin and the Sentence – Trivium

19. The Forest Seasons – Wintersun

18. Clairvoyant – The Contortionist

17. Unparalleled Universe – Origin

16. Renaissance in Extremis – Akercocke

15. Godless Prophets & the Migrant Flora – Darkest Hour

14. Wrong One to Fuck With – Dying Fetus

13. Immortals – Firewind

12. Gods of Violence – Kreator

11. The Dusk in Us – Converge

10. Bloodlust – Body Count

9. Tremendum – Hate

8. Atonement – Immolation

7. E – Enslaved

6. Conformicide – Havok

5. Vengeful Ascension – Goatwhore

4. Nightbringers – The Black Dahlia Murder

3. Thrice Woven – Wolves in the Throne Room

2. Strength in Numbers – The Haunted

1. Obsidian Arc – Pillorian

 

Top 20 Non-Metal Albums of 2017 (Full Video Here)

20. Heartworms – The Shins

19. Captain California – Murs

18. Lust for Life – Lana Del Rey

17. Crack-Up – Fleet Foxes

16. Number 1 Angel – Charli XCX

15. 4Eva is a Mighty Long Time – Big K.R.I.T.

14. AFI (The Blood Album) – AFI

13. No Dope On Sundays – CyHi the Prynce

12. This Old Dog – Mac Demarco

11. Awake – Illenium

10. Funk Wav Bounces, Vol. 1 – Calvin Harris

9. Last Call – Rittz

8. Science Fiction – Brand New

7. Sleep Well Beast – The National

6. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

5. Melodrama – Lorde

4. Makes Me Sick – New Found Glory

3. After Laughter – Paramore

2. Trial By Fire – Yelawolf

1. All the Beauty in This Whole Life – Brother Ali

 

10 Songs That Defined 2017 For Me (In No Particular Order) [Full Video Here]

“She Wanna Party” – Young Thug

“26” – Paramore

“Fractures” – Illenium

“ELEMENT.” – Kendrick Lamar

“Starlight” – Starset

“Bigger Than Me” – Big Sean

“Blurred Vision” – New Found Glory

“Slide” – Calvin Harris

“For My People” – Joey Bada$$

“Ground Control” – All Time Low

 

 

 

December 2017 Album Round Up!

Happy New Year everyone! It’s 2018 and here I am a week and a half into the new year playing catch-up on everything that should’ve been finished before…well, whenever it was I blacked out on the night of the 31st.

The problem is, I was too busy pouring my heart and soul into year-end lists like this one and this one and this one, obsessing over every little detail and second-guessing every single candidate for hours and hours on end, to keep both eyes on the release calendar all December. So I definitely missed a few albums. But I do feel like I managed to hear all the important ones. For instance, it was absolutely CRUCIAL that I set aside enough time for both Eminem AND the Star Wars franchise to disappoint me on the same day (which happened to be my half-birthday, no less). Boy, that was fun.

But whether you’re a reader, a viewer, or just a serial angry commenter, thank you so much for your support in 2017! It means the world to me. I felt like the quality of my content grew exponentially this past year, and my goal for 2018 is to kick this shit up about ten notches! Which, that’ll mostly happen on my YouTube channel, so if you haven’t already, please subscribe and tune in every week!

But as long as I love to write, this blog lives on. And what the fuck is this blog without my monthly keyboard diarrhea about “disappointing new album” this and “corny overused descriptive adjective” that? Exactly. That’s what I thought.

So without further ado, the last Monthly Round Up of 2017!

Revival – Eminem

Annnnnnnd, after over a decade of remarkably inconsistent output, see-sawing constantly between unbearable nadirs and soaring highs, the day has finally arrived. The undeniable WORST release of Eminem’s legendary career. On the 44-year-old rapper’s eighth LP, everything falls apart. The production – whether it’s Rick Rubin’s appallingly lazy sampling of “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” on the song “Remind Me”, or it’s the syrupy Ed Sheeran collab “River” with its hideous Rock-ish bridge – shits the bed. And Eminem’s bars? They kind of shit the bed too, especially when he’s making horrible “shit” puns (“shit on my last chick/she has what my ex lacks”). On Revival, Eminem has so little sense about how to make his virtuosic rhymes sound musical. He’s like a malfunctioning “bar machine” that randomly generates intricate syllable combinations while ignoring the fact that there’s supposed to be “songs” going on here. Quite unfortunate to see one of my heroes take such a late-career nosedive. NOT RECOMMENDED

Kingdoms Disdained – Morbid Angel

 With the bar set impossibly low by the disastrous Industrial attempts on 2011’s Illud Divinum Insanus, these legendary Death Metallers could’ve put out pretty much anything and their fans would’ve gobbled it up, because hey, “at least it’s not that other one”. Enter Kingdoms Disdained, a suffocating, impenetrable, aggressively mediocre pummelfest that was welcomed with rave reviews. Well, from everyone expect me anyway. Even though I dug a couple tracks here and there, I found this LP to be swamped with filler and ultimately brought down by its completely one-dimensional brutality. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Pop 2 – Charli XCX

After my surprising love affair with her Number 1 Angel mixtape back in March, I was hoping for this feisty Brit to bring a second jolt of to the predictable Pop world before the year was up. But unfortunately, while Charli’s slightly brash approach to Pop music is still undeniably cutting edge, the punches didn’t land this time around for me. Whether it’s the flat hook on “Unlock It”, the mind-numbingly repetitive “I Got It”, or the underwhelming electro-tinged snoozefest that is the opener “Backseat” (yes, even with my girl Carly Rae on it!), I just couldn’t vibe with this project. Though I do enjoy the (cleverly titled) closing track “Track 10” and the EDM flair with which it crescendos toward the end, I’m gonna have to go against the overwhelmingly positive grain here and declare this one a no-go. Sawwy. NOT RECOMMENDED

From a Room: Volume 2 – Chris Stapleton

 In terms of raw singing talent, Chris Stapleton is, without any debate, one of the best in the Country business. But on From a Room: Volume 2 – Stapleton’s second release of 2017 – what makes him stand out even more is his range. From the folk-y minimalism of “Drunkard’s Prayer” to the loud Country Rock of “Hard Livin’” to the soulful balladry of “Nobody’s Lonely Tonight”, the man’s versatility makes this 32-minute record feel like 10 minutes that’s over all too soon (cue the easy jokes about my sex life). In a year where I put a ton of effort into acquiring a taste for Country music of all kinds, Chris Stapleton made the kind of songs that required no effort at all. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Pressure – Jeezy

 If you had told me in 2006 that 12 years later, (then “Young”) Jeezy would still be relevant, I would’ve laughed in your face. But here we are, and though Jeezy hasn’t been terribly concerned with evolving his sound, he’s still pumping out the kind of bangers that make me wish I gave this thing a proper review. Exhibit A: the triumphant, bravado-laced “Spyder”, with D. Rich’s hard-hitting production giving the LP an immediate lift. And later on, of course, “American Dream” is a huge moment, given that it finds Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole joining forces on the same beat (Cole in particular kills it), adding even more intrigue to that rumored collaborative project between the two of them. Oh, and there’s also “In a Major Way” where guest Payroll Giovanni is an absolute monster. Sure, Pressure is far from perfect – you’ve got the generic “Floor Seats”, you’ve got straight unjustifiable duds like “This Is It”, and you’ve got bars like “two bitches, double date/diamonds floatin’, levitate” dragging the record down- but Jeezy continues to remind us why we still care about him after a decade and a half.

Virtual Self EP – Virtual Self

As I gushed on this very blog a few months back, our first taste of Porter Robinson’s Virtual Self side project (why he feels compelled to trade in his own MONEY-PRINTING household name for a generic pseudonym here, I have no idea) was nothing short of rapturous. The song in question, “Eon Break”, had everything; it had drops like fireworks, it had these rapturous major key synth melodies vaulting it into the stratosphere…not to mention its explosive climax at the end, featuring frenetic drum programming that felt like a distant cousin of Metal music. Well, I am happy to report that Porter’s debut EP as Virtual Self lives up to the hype generated by its first single. There’s the futuristic Trance adventures of “Ghost Voices”, there’s the twitching glitches of the most unique track on here, “a.i.ngel (Become God)”, and there’s perhaps my personal favorite, the so-sugary-and-blissful-it’s-almost-too-much-but-it’s-actually-beautiful “Key”, the latter of which most adheres to the “Eon Break” blueprint. All reasons to go check this EP out immediately. C’mon, it’s 20 minutes! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

War & Leisure – Miguel

Another capital W for one of the de facto leaders of the R & B genre. While Miguel’s fourth album War & Leisure might’ve reeled me in with the Travis Scott-assisted lead single “Sky Walker” – I wrote about that HERE – it quickly proved to me that it had a lot more to offer. The blissful, tropical-tinged “Pineapple Skies”, the entrancing “Banana Clip”, the jazzy J. Cole collab “Come Through and Chill”…Miguel did it again. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

In Becoming a Ghost – The Faceless

 Kudos to The Faceless for continuing to push the boundaries of what Technical Death Metal can be. After half a decade, they’ve come roaring back with a fourth LP that manages to be their most dynamic yet. I’m still hesitant to call it their “best” – that honor remains with 2008’s genre-defining Planetary Duality – but masterful Metal compositions like the delightfully dissonant “Digging the Grave”, or “Cup of Mephistopheles” with its snake-like riffing, or the head-spinning closer “The Terminal Breath” certainly qualify In Becoming a Ghost as a must-listen. And I should mention it’s all brought together by Ken Bergeron’s raspy vocal performance – he is far and away the best frontman that this band has ever had. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Dedication – Chief Keef

Material Control – Glassjaw

Reflective Pt. 2 EP – Bassnectar

Songs of Experience – U2

Say Less – Roy Woods

DON’T LIKE:

Asking Alexandria – Asking Alexandria

The New Reality – Operation: Mindcrime

Double or Nothing – Big Sean & Metro Boomin’

Wednesday – Chris Webby

 

Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2017

Happy holidays everyone!

Oh wait, we’re like a year into the whole “Donald Trump is president” thing. My bad.

In one of the most hilariously ridiculous speeches of his presidency thus far – bold statement, I know – Donald Trump made a promise that as a nation, we’re all gonna go back to saying “Merry Christmas” like we did before things got all politically correct. “Times have changed, but we’re changing them back,” he insisted. It reminded me of that infamous Jason Kidd speech where he said “we’re gonna turn this team around 360 degrees”.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump talking all bigly about his yuuuuge plans for this great nation didn’t at all sway my December rhetoric. I did what I do every year – I wished an awkward mix of “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays”, depending on what kind of mood I was in, who was around, and how Christian-y the vibe was.

Joking aside, whatever Winter holiday you and your family celebrate – whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or one of those Pagan things – I hope you find joy, laughter, relaxation, and, of course, good food in the company of your loved ones, and I hope you head into 2018 with the wide-eyed optimism of a six-year-old boy.

Anyway, for my first of FIVE 2017 year-end lists – you’re gonna head over to my YouTube channel to see the rest of them in the next week and a half – we’re gonna talk Hip-Hop. And boy is there a lot of ground to cover.

2017 was another banner year for Rap music, sure. Any monkey with a Twitter account and @ComplexMusic and @XXL in his feed could piece that one together. But even better, it was a year defined by the unexpected. Both positive AND negative, I may add. Here are some things that happened in Hip-Hop this year that I couldn’t have possibly foreseen:

  • The Migos made a Trap album that is literally listenable (and enjoyable) from beginning to end
  • Eminem dropped a turd that makes 2004’s Encore look like a masterpiece
  • CyHi the Prynce’s long-awaited debut somehow lived up to over seven years of album-less hype
  • Jay-Z snapped out of his whole “I only rap to sponsor my art collection” mindset and made his best music since 2003
  • EDM superstar Calvin Harris put Snoop Dogg, Travis Scott, Migos, ScHoolboy Q, Lil’ Yachty, Future, Big Sean, Nicki Minaj, and Frank Ocean on one project. And it worked.
  • Macklemore and a mumble rapper made a song together and it ended up being ten times worse than my limited imagination could’ve even conjured up

So as you can see, it’s been an exciting 12 months. And I’m glad to be done making this list, ‘cause I spent DAYS stressing out about it (especially those #5 – #7 slots!). I really hope my thoughts are informative or, at the very least, mildly entertaining. Honorable Mentions are at the bottom. See you all in 2018!

10. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY – VIC MENSA

 On his debut album for Roc Nation, after a few years of increasing buzz and the immense pressure and anticipation that comes with being a Kanye West protégé, Vic Mensa leapfrogs over the already-lofty expectations set for him with, well, one of the best Hip-Hop albums of the entire year. The Autobiography proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mensa’s got all of the makings of a bonafide Rap superstar. He can make rousing bangers with the best of them, as shown on the Kid-Cudi-meets- Travis-Scott party tune “Rollin’ Like a Stoner” as well as the Chief Keef-assisted hood anthem “Down for Some Ignorance”; he can tell stories (“Homewrecker”), he can be deeply introspective (“Wings”), and he can even make the ladies swoon when he steps out from under his self-loathing (“Gorgeous”).

Not to mention, the guy can collaborate too – the aforementioned tracks round up the likes of Chief Keef, Syd, Pharrell Williams, and even Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, making for a colorful but cohesive tracklist. Mensa’s one of the most promising young Hip-Hop artists in the game right now.

 Top 3 Tracks: “Homewrecker”, “Gorgeous”, “Wings”

9. PRETTY GIRLS LIKE TRAP MUSIC – 2 CHAINZ

 Perhaps the most unexpected entry on this list, 2 Chainz flushed over a decade of ratchet mediocrity down the toilet and knocked the clumsily-titled Pretty Girls Like Trap Music into the stratosphere. As a rapper, beat-picker, hook-crafter, and overall larger-than-life personality, 2 Chainz has never sounded sharper. While the over-the-top ridiculousness of his bars remains a key part of his charm – in particular, the line “I got a bank account, got anotha bank account, got anotha bank account” is my single favorite line of 2017 (which, by the way, given that the FDIC only insurances up to $250,000 per account, this is probably a financially savvy move on his part) – this time around, he has the endless flow and compelling rhymes to back it up.

And his ability to use the occasional guest to light a fire under his ass – Travis Scott Nicki Minaj, Swae Lee, Migos, and Drake all ANNIHILATE the tracks they show up on – helps propel Pretty Girls Like Trap Music into every worthwhile “Best Hip-Hop of 2017” conversation.

Top 3 Tracks: “Blue Cheese”, “Realize”, “Good Drank”

8. FLOWER BOY – TYLER, THE CREATOR

What beautiful irony that an artist like Tyler, The Creator – who rose to prominence by being infinitely rebellious and anti-everything – made his best material to date by softening his edges and buddying up with an industry juggernaut (Columbia Records) for its release.

Production-wise, Flower Boy is perhaps my favorite on this list, bringing together sounds that range from cinematic to insular to manic to just plain weird. Yet the true excellence of the LP lies in Tyler’s undeniable maturation.

By getting unapologetically sappy (“See You Again”), wistfully nostalgic (“November”) and heartbreakingly vulnerable (“911/Mr. Lonely”) alongside his usual aggression and quirks (“Who Dat Boy”, “I Ain’t Got Time!”), Tyler has successfully transitioned from odd-but-compelling enigma to fully formed, three-dimensional artist.

Top 3 Tracks: “November”, “911/Mr. Lonely”, “See You Again”

7. CAPTAIN CALIFORNIA – MURS

That my list will likely be the ONLY year-end Hip-Hop List to give Murs his due is nothing short of a tragedy. On his sixth LP and second for Tech N9ne’s Strange Music label, the California MC shows an elastic emotional range that is extremely hard to come by in Hip-Hop. On the opening track “Lemon Juice”, he and guest Curtiss King will have you cackling uncontrollably as they try to compete for a girl’s attention. Cuts like “God Bless Kanye West” and “G is for Gentrify” will have you mulling over today’s socioeconomic climate. On touching love songs like “1000 Suns” and “Another Round”, Murs will have you reflecting on your best romantic relationships or dreaming of ones like his. On “One Uh Those Days”, he’ll have you carefully following along with his detailed storytelling right up until the hilarious twist ending. It’s time people get their shit together and start paying attention to this talented motherfucker.

Top 3 Tracks: “Lemon Juice”, “1000 Suns”, “Colossus”

6. 4EVA IS A MIGHTY LONG TIME – BIG K.R.I.T.

 While it would’ve been virtually impossible to top 2014’s Cadillactica – an adventurous space-themed concept album that remains one of the finest moments of the genre this decade – Justin Scott continues to build his case as one of the great Southern rappers, filling the shoes of giants like UGK, Outkast and T.I. with ease. This sprawling double-album is split into a more bravado-driven “Big K.R.I.T. half” and a more introspective “Justin Scott half”, with both discs pulling their weight equally, from the most trunk-knocking moments (“ Subenstein”, “Big Bank”) to the most naked and confessional (“Price of Fame”, Mixed Messages”). As I continue to preach the gospel of Big K.R.I.T., I have yet another holy text to read from to convert people to the cause. And thanks to people like ANTHONY FANTANO, they really are doing so.

Top 3 Tracks: “Get Away”, “Mixed Messages”, “Miss Georgia Fornia”

5. NO DOPE ON SUNDAYS – CYHI THE PRYNCE

 I can’t think of a single Hip-Hop album that has been delayed as long as this one and actually LIVED UP to the impossible hype. But that’s exactly what Kanye’s finest protégé managed to do. Besides creating the most lyrically monstrous album on this whole list, on No Dope on Sundays Cyhi the Prynce still manages to stay focused on well-crafted songs, thought-provoking content, and carefully-placed features (in particular, Travis Scott, BJ the Chicago Kid, and ScHoolboy Q kill it here). And to top it all off, CyHi ties everything together with a powerful theme that contrasts spirituality and street life.

Plus, the amount of times I’ve used the expression “get your money and get out the game” in REAL LIFE since hearing this album….that alone earns it a spot in the Top five.

Top 3 Tracks: “I’m Fine”, “No Dope on Sundays”, “Movin’ Around”

4. LAST CALL – RITTZ

 On his final album for Strange Music, this double time-spittin’ white boy once again comes through with a body of work that feels like it’s been made specifically for me. Seriously, this motherfucker checks every box.

  • Emotionally, it covers the entire spectrum, from the tear-jerking “Fuck Cancer” to the ferocious “Into the Sky” (which, by the way, are back-to-back in the tracklist).
  • When appropriate, it’s as introspective as Hip-Hop can get, as showcased on the childhood woes of “Press Rewind” and the modern-day neuroses of “I’m Only Human”
  • From a technical rapping standpoint, Rittz once again has few equals – just check the standout single “Down for Mine” or the stirring opener “Middle of Nowhere” for proof
  • And yet again, Rittz’s ability to sing his own hooks makes him a complete, self-sufficient artist. No big features or name-dropping needed here; this one guy can keep you engaged for over an hour.

Top 3 Tracks: “Crash and Burn”, “Into the Sky”, Down for Mine”

3. DAMN. – KENDRICK LAMAR

 While 2015’s expansive, ambitious To Pimp a Butterfly endeared him to critics and solidified his place in Hip-Hop history, this time around it’s Kendrick Lamar’s fundamentals that make him stand out. At the end of the day, Kung Fu Kenny is just a dope fucking rapper. I never get tired of hearing him rap – his unending supply of creative flows, intricate rhyme structures, and nuanced perspectives ensure that Lamar can sound good on any beat.

But beyond Kendrick’s ability as an MC, my favorite thing about DAMN. is how emotionally raw it is. K-Dot’s music has always carried with it an underlying depression, anxiety and vicious inner conflict– which has been occasionally brought to the forefront on tracks like TPAB’s “u” – but DAMN. takes this to a whole new level. This is a 14-track therapy session, with intense feelings flying every which way like bullets during D-Day. And as a listener who prefers this type of psychological mayhem, I find it to be some of the most gripping work of Kendrick Lamar’s already-historic career.

Top 3 Tracks: “ELEMENT.”, “FEAR.”, “PRIDE.”

2. TRIAL BY FIRE – YELAWOLF

 Against all odds – and when I say ALL ODDS, I mean over seven years of artistic decline since his initial burst of hype and at least one race-related controversy – Rap’s most divisive white trash Hick-Hopper pulled through with, simply put, one of the most unique “Hip-Hop” records I’ve ever heard.

On Trial By Fire, the Alabama native weaves together various shades of Country, Folk, Rock, Blues – and yes, in the midst of all that, a guest appearance from Juicy motherfuckin’ J – into his well-studied rhyming abilities to make the kind of album that no one else could make. Sure, COUNTRY AND RAP MUSIC have had their history together (LINK), but not in a way that hasn’t compromised or caricaturized either side of the spectrum. That is, until exhilarating mish-mashes on this LP like “Punk”, which contains the aforementioned Juicy J feature.

Yelawolf also bares his soul on these 14 tracks, and has a novelists’ eye for storytelling (seriously, check the haunting “Sabrina” or the sentimentally autobiographical “Keeps Me Alive” for some hardcore evidence), bringing these Southern soundscapes to life with each and every verse. On “Ride or Die”, a heartfelt tribute to a day one friend, I can actually picture Yela sitting on a front porch somewhere in Alabama strumming his guitar and staring out into miles of farmland.

 And for me, there’s a personal angle to this as well. Trial by Fire represents the ultimate escapism. It’s an album that whisks me away from my Yuppie tri-state surroundings to long, winding dirt roads, musky dive bars with Harleys parked out front, and remote stretches of land with nothing but grass and the gentle breeze that nudges it from side to side. So I suppose my increasing infatuation with the rural South has fed my love of Trial by Fire. But still, whether you end up smitten like I am or deeply unimpressed, this is music you need to hear.

Top 3 Tracks: “Ride or Die”, “Punk”, “Son of a Gun”

 1. ALL THE BEAUTY IN THIS WHOLE LIFE – BROTHER ALI

As I gushed at the middle of the year, Brother Ali made the kind of special album that makes me happy to be alive. With top-notch production from Ant of Atmosphere ensuring that it’s sonically rapturous, Ali is free to tackle weighty subject matter; sensitive topics that he handles gracefully, I might add. Beauty covers everything from race (“Dear Black Son”, “Before They Called You White”) to pornography (“The Bitten Apple”) to suicide (“Out of Here”) to Ali’s own childhood struggles (“Pray For Me”) sending your emotions every which way in the process. When you combine Ali’s raw talent on the mic with food-for-thought content, gorgeous instrumentals, and hooks like the infectious single “Own Light”, it’s impossible to lose.

Top 3 Tracks: “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)”, “Out of Here”, “All the Beauty in This Whole Life”

Some Honorable Mentions:

Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples

Culture – Migos

Radio Silence – Talib Kweli

All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ – Joey Bada$$

At What Cost – Goldlink

4:44 – Jay-Z

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream – Open Mike Eagle

Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross

November 2017 Album Round Up!

Greetings, fellow music fans of the (still “neutral” for now) Internet! Welcome to my second-to-last Album Round Up of 2017! As I type this, I’m already deep into the hours and hours of fierce internal debate that I pour into List…..ok, look. My first instinct was to write something about “List Season”, because naturally, I’ve been gleefully combing through 2017’s release calendar compiling those “best of” lists that consume all of my Decembers. But knowing myself as well as I do, I had this funny feeling that I had made some equally dumb comment about “List Season” at this time last year, and sure enough, I was right. And since I’m not a member of AC/DC, I don’t get some sort of pathological satisfaction out of constantly repeating myself. So maybe I just won’t acknowledge “List Season” this time around. Although….since I’ve now used the term “List Season” four times in this very paragraph, I guess I’m kinda committed.

In all seriousness, there’s a reason List Season is my favorite time of year. With the exception of my “Worst of” list, I literally have an excuse to just sit on my ass and listen to every single piece of auditory greatness that 2017 gave us for hours and hours on end! More over, I get to really dig into any records that got swept under the rug while I was busy drinking, procrastinating, or random bullshit like arguing with Geico about my premiums or shopping for a new massage chair.

As it turns out, November gave me a ton of material for this Round Up– at 23 albums, I think this might be the most different releases I’ve covered in one of these things – so I really hope you get something out of this! Even if there’s just ONE album that I turn you on to/steer you away from, then it’s all worth it to me.

Reputation – Taylor Swift

You know, I gave this a genuine chance. I was even willing to forego that gimmicky “leave it off streaming platforms for three weeks” marketing plan that Swift and the Suits dreamed up. But Reputation is a big step back from 2014’s Pop juggernaut 1989. Swift’s sixth album features ill-advised experiments with dance music (“I Did Something Bad”, “Look What You Made Me Do”), a really awkward Ed Sheeran collaboration (“End Game”), enough vocal manipulations to make T-Pain gawk, and cheaply invokes sexuality at nearly every turn (“…Ready for It?”, “Delicate”, “Dress”).   All that being said, Reputation has already passed 2 million sales worldwide and is currently occupying the top slot on the Billboard charts for the third week in a row, so as always, the joke’s on me. NOT RECOMMENDED

Radio Silence – Talib Kweli

 For his eighth solo release, the veteran Brooklyn MC and social activist – not to mention, one of Twitter’s most incessant self-righteousness finger-pointers – added another solid installment to his prolific catalogue. While a few late-album cuts like the title track and “Let It Roll” are underwhelming momentum-retardants, there are three songs in particular – “All of Us”, “She’s My Hero”, and “Chips” – that make everything worthwhile. “All of Us” is a soulful collaboration with singer Yummy Bingham that boasts I think, like, the SECOND Jay Electronica verse of all of 2017. “She’s My Hero” is a tear-jerking ode to abuse victim Bresha Meadows. And “Chips” is a rousing collab with none other than Waka Flocka Flame, who sets it on fire with one of the most surprisingly dope guest verses I’ve heard all year. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Ashes EP – Sinsaenum

 This Extreme Metal “supergroup” – featuring Joey Jordison of Slipknot, Frederic Leclercq from Dragonforce, Attila Csihar from Mayhem, and others – came roaring back on the heels of their 2016 debut Echoes of the Tortured with a five-track EP that impressively upped the ante . Whereas their debut was more of a vintage Death Metal record with elements of Black Metal theatrics sprinkled in, Ashes finds the best of Black Metal and Death Metal in a furious seesaw that keeps getting more and more exciting as the tracks unravel. In particular, the opening trio of “Ashes”, “Monarch of Death”, and “2099 (Heretics)” are all absolutely essential listens. While I’ve been rooting for this band since day one, they are now top priority for me when it comes to their next release. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

 Red Pill Blues – Maroon 5

For their third album as Adam Levine Plus Hip-Hop and Dance Beats, Maroon 5’s painful transition into by-the-numbers Z100 wallpaper fully crystallizes. Featuring production and songwriting contributions from every “hit-maker” imaginable – Diplo, Ben Billions, Charlie Puth, Teddy Geiger, Julia Michaels, Jason Evigan, etc. – Adam Levine and his buddies deliver a platter of instantly forgettable songs that are unlikely to have the same chart mojo that the pre-albums singles (“Don’t Wanna Know”, “Cold”, “What Lovers Do”) were able to maintain. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Laugh Now, Fly Later – Wiz Khalifa

 Instead of just letting fans wait a little longer for his hugely anticipated Rolling Papers 2 album, the Khalifa Kush CEO succumbed to the pressure and decided to squeeze out this little turd for anybody still lurking at the bottom of the toilet bowl praying he’ll redeem the last six-and-half years of mediocrity. This 39-minute mixtape consists of about 19 minutes of ad-libs and 20 minutes of bars about smoking weed. Even if you blaze religiously, there’s still no way that sounds appealing. And aside from a couple of decent moments – the “Weed Farm” beat goes hard, and Casey Veggies steals the show on the opener “Royal Highness” – it isn’t. it’s torturously boring. But all of my vitriol, I’m still holding out hope for Rolling Papers 2. Until then, no more “hold-over” projects Wiz, please and thank you. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Kids in Love – Kygo

For his second studio album and follow-up to last year’s overly commercial, monumentally disappointing Cloud Nine, the one-time prince of Tropical House doubles down and gives us 29 minutes of Kidz Bop EDM with the same quality and sophistication of The Chainsmokers. I find it strange that, seeing as Kygo has enjoyed international hits like “Firestone” and “Stole the Show”, he feels the need to make such desperate radio grabs. To be fair, he now has the Sony Music engine behind him, which may or may not have something to do with the bullshit on Kids in Love. Either way, this whole constant-vocals-with-one-small-drop format effectively qualifies this as Pop music – the fact that there’s a OneRepublic feature on a song titled after one of 2017’s biggest television phenomenons (“Stranger Things”) and a True-era Avicci knockoff (“Never Let You Go”) should say it all. Kygo doesn’t seem to have any interest in standing out in any way. He’s just falling in line. It’s a real shame to see it happen to yet another talented EDM artist. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Dusk in Us – Converge

In just a couple years, Converge will hit their thirtieth year as a band. That these New England Metalcore legends are still churning out material that sounds as fresh, fluid, and completely singular as The Dusk In Us is beyond my capacity of understanding. They always deliver. Every. Single. Time. The phenomenal “A Single Tear” single and music – released days before the album – was what initially stoked my excitement for this LP, but the chaotic riff fests that are “Under Duress” and “Broken by Light”, as well as the record’s more delicate moments like “Thousands of Miles Between Us” and the title, all further reinforce my belief that Converge are one of the preeminent Metal bands of the last two decades. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Red Before Black – Cannibal Corpse

Just when I think these Death Metal legends are finally running their formula dry, they deliver more genuinely satisfying assault and battery on Red Before Black, their fourteenth studio album in nearly thirty years as a band. While a track like “Destroyed Without a Trace” is so dime-a-dozen in CC’s catalogue – seriously, it could’ve been on Evisceration Plague, OR Torture, OR A Skeletal Domain OR, well you get the point – this LP does have a few subtle differences. For one, the Tech Metal element that has crept into recent Cannibal releases has been noticeably dialed back – tracks like “Firestorm Vengeance” and “Code of the Slashers” are basically Thrash tunes with Death Metal growls on top. Second….well there is no second. And that’s why this band’s status quo approach never excites me. There’s very little on Red Before Black that I can’t get from the last TWENTY YEARS of Corpsegrinder-era material (which, by the way, I enjoy the hell out of his performance here!). So look, if you’re into this shit, you know the deal. And if you’re not, either go listen to Kill or, like, go do anything else with your time. The same thing the fourteenth time over isn’t gonna sway you. RECOMMENDED

No Dope On Sundays – CyHi the Prynce

 Kanye’s most promising – and yet, perpetually shelved – protégé has been waiting in the wings since impressing Hip-Hop heads across the board with his guest spot on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. And as one of those people eagerly awaiting his turn in the limelight, I’ve been frustrated right alongside him. Seven years later, his debut album has finally seen the light of day, and I’m thrilled to say that it’s one of the few super-delayed Hip-Hop debuts that’s actually worth the wait. With an insightful running theme that contrasts spirituality with street activity, CyHi rips through track after track of eloquent lyricism, thoughtful song structure, and invigorating collaboration, which include the likes of Pusha T, ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz, Travis Scott and Mr. West himself. All in all, No Dope on Sundays is a strong candidate for my Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2017, which will be posted on this blog in the coming weeks. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Post Self – Godflesh

 Despite having an overwhelming fondness for Godflesh’s game-changing industrial classics like Streetcleaner and Songs of Love and Hate, as well as an appreciation for the venerable comeback record that was 2014’s A World Lit Only By Fire, this new one is just too damn esoteric for me. I can’t get into it. For my taste, there’s too much emphasis on ambience and exhaustive repetition and not enough in the way of riffs, which Godflesh have always managed to weave into their sound, regardless of the experimental terrain it has traversed over the years. While the rhythms of tracks like “Parasite” may hit you like an 18-wheeler, there’s almost no semblance of “notes” or musicality, just raw rhythmic noise. And I’m sure, given Godflesh’s stature as the critical darlings of this corner of Metal, they’re being lauded for it by some bloggers. But if I’m being completely honest, Post Self was so over my head that I even scrapped my planned review of it. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

The Thrill of It All – Sam Smith

BB – Mod Sun

I Am Legion – Witchery

Dark Flag – Phinehas

DON’T LIKE:

Psychosis – Cavalera Conspiracy

Reputation – Taylor Swift

No Shame – Hopsin

What If Nothing – Walk the Moon

Kaskade Christmas – Kaskade

Oblivion – T-Pain

SYRE – Jaden Smith

Stranger – Yung Lean

Friday On Elm Street – Fabolous & Jadakiss