August 2016 Album Round Up!

Hey guys! Hope your summers went out with a bang and the whole death-of-fun-and-sunshine-and-continuation-of-your-shit-life thing isn’t getting ya too down! As expected, August was relatively slow on the new music front. But in terms of new music, shit’s about to get crazy so I didn’t mind a quiet month. I got to chip away at my never-ending quest to “catch up” on classics, I got to drink excessively, and I got to put together a bit of a game plan for taking on the musical insanity that’s headed our way. Still, in any given month, there’s never a COMPLETE shortage of high profile albums. In fact, I think Frank Ocean and Young Thug purposely waited for a commercial lull to drop their hugely successful new projects. Not that either of them needed it, but it’s that much less space they have to share with their peers.

I’m so fucking psyched for the Fall. SO MUCH shit is dropping. Kinda like hanging out by the Seagulls at the beach. (Don’t worry, I didn’t actually just make that joke, it’s all in your head.) But for now, here are my thoughts on nine of this past month’s releases:

Emotion: Side B – Carly Rae Jepsen

That we didn’t get this earlier in the Summer is a travesty, but Carly Rae’s b-side collection from last year’s phenomenal Emotion LP is a rarity in that it’s as great as the main event was. Seriously, Emotion was in my Top 5 albums of 2015, and I’m enjoying these 8 tracks JUST AS MUCH. Carly’s songs are just as infectious when she’s bubbly and optimistic (“First Time” and Higher”) as when she’s down on her luck (“Cry” and “Roses”). As with Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered release earlier this year, Emotion: Side B proves that following a critical triumph with its leftovers actually HELPS rather than hinders its legacy. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Slow Death – Carnifex

I expected to hate the shit out of this. Deathcore is potentially my least favorite style of Metal – more often than not, it’s brute force over nuance, nihilistic ranting over thoughtfulness, and aggression for aggression’s sake. But I’m so glad I gave this new Carnifex LP a shot. It’s hardly the one-track minded Deathcore of early Whitechapel or Job for a Cowboy – rather, it’s a formidable amalgamation of a few different Metal niches. Standout “Drown Me In Blood”, for instance, is more of a brutal Death Metal/Deathcore hybrid, with some seriously catchy riffing in the chorus, and “Black Candles Burning” brings a touch of blackened Metal to the table. Not to mention the keys throughout the album on cuts like “Pale Ghost” add a slight theatrical element. Sure, there’s an abundance of low brow lyrics (check the refrain in “Six Feet Closer to Hell”…eeek), and Slow Death isn’t a Metal Album of the Year or anything, but it’s a friendly reminder that genre elitism is the worst offense a music fan can commit. RECOMMENDED

Fishing Blues – Atmosphere

 These prolific indie Hip-Hop giants followed up 2014’s Southsiders with a set of tracks that showcase Ant’s midas touch for slick, tuneful beats far more prominently than Slug’s rhyming skills. The instrumentals on Fishing Blues are spot on, while the lyrics are spot-TY in places. Slug drops some questionable bars, like “I wanna put my DNA in your American Pie”, or the entire track “Next To You”, which is about jerking off next to his sleeping girlfriend, and is as painfully cringeworthy as it sounds. But as expected from an MC of Slug’s caliber, he also has moments of greatness, like the self-aware “Everything” or the elegant scene-setting in the title track. All things considered – barring a few skip-worthy cuts – it still adds up to yet another solid Atmosphere project. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

No, My Name is JEFFERY – Young Thug

The Atlanta MC’s latest mixtape has earned him unprecedented acclaim, and for good reason. Tracks like the funky “Wyclef Jean”, the uber-melodic “Swizz Beatz”, and the impossibly smooth “Guwop” are some of the best Hip-Hop songs of 2016. Jeffery’s track list is not bulletproof (exhibits A and B: the obnoxious voice cracks on “RiRi” and the plodding “menace” of “Harambe”), and there’s still a part of me that’s irritated as fuck with Thugger’s whole schtick – the squeaky delivery and the unimaginative sexual vulguarity in particular – but that part of me is quieter than he’s ever been with Jeffery. It’s just too damn catchy. I’d go as far as to call it the best Young Thug project to date. RECOMMENDED

Echoes of the Tortured – Sinsaenum

I will admit, upon hearing Echoes of the Tortured , the debut from this Extreme Metal supergroup (featuring ex-Slipknot skinsman Joey Jordison, Dragonforce bassist Frederic Leclercq, and vocalists Attila from Mayhem and Sean Zatorsky from Daath), I felt mislead, and to a lesser extent disappointed. On The Jasta Show, Joey and Frederic sold their new project in a manner that had me thinking it would be a Black Metal and Death Metal hybrid, equal parts Darkthrone and Morbid Angel. In reality, they’ve unleashed eleven tracks of Death Metal and ten tracks of campy keyboard interludes. That being said, despite a few lyrical clichés (the Deicide homage “Inverted Cross”), it’s flawlessly executed. Check the middle of “Condemned to Suffer” for some amazingly catchy riffing, and check tracks like “Army of Chaos” and “Final Curse” for stripped-back headbanging grooves that recall the early ‘90s. If you’re at all into Death Metal, this is a great listen. RECOMMENDED

Encore – DJ Snake

Fuck, I did this one to myself. Electronic Dance Music is the latest “genre project” in my obsessive music nerd manhunt – I’ve been falling deeper and deeper in love with its many subgenres and the 40-year history of Electronic music, determined to become qualified to review and write about it in the next six months or so. Unfortunately, this means I’m giving every EDM release a listen out of sheer curiosity, even total nonsense like this. DJ Snake ironically titled his debut album Encore, which I suppose is encouraging for us in his case because an encore usually signals the end. Either way, the flavors on this LP range from plain Vanilla to Sweaty Butthole (to clarify for any sexual deviants, that is a NEGATIVE thing). The Skrillex collaboration “Sahara” features the most obnoxious EDM drop I have ever fucking heard. “Pigalle” is a close runner-up. That’s all I’m willing to share. NOT RECOMMENDED

Blonde – Frank Ocean

Listen to this. It’s fucking beautiful. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Home of the Strange – Young the Giant

Young the Giant’s third LP comes with no major surprises – sauntering grooves (“Amerika” and “Something to Believe in”), reverb-soaked choruses (“Titus Was Born”) straightforward lyrical content (“Mr. Know-It-All”), and, periodically, some glossy synths playing back up (“Elsewhere”). I enjoyed the hell out of this band’s self-titled debut back in 2010 – it fit right in with Alt-Rock acts that I was into like Band of Horses, Cage the Elephant, and soon after, Imagine Dragons. For better or worse, Young the Giant are another agreeable indie Rock band. The (minor) issue that pops up with this particular sound is that Young the Giant and their peers tend to be pretty faceless and mild. Home of the Strange is often a fun listen, but it’s like wandering into a delicious pizza place in New York City- another block or two and you can find a similar experience. RECOMMENDED

SremmLife 2 – Rae Sremmurd

When I think of Rae Sremmurd, their music isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. I think of Complex magazine controversially ranking their Sremmlife debut the third best album of 2015, ahead of Drake, Vince Staples, A$AP Rocky, and, well, every other album that came out that year except two (Future’s DS2 and Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly). On their sophomore effort, the two MCs are a banger factory once again– there’s no denying that – but I find myself indifferent because there’s so little to explore beneath its charismatic surface. As a result, the record as a whole has had little replay value for me. But I will say that “Look Alive” is my favorite Rae Sremmurd track yet, and I totally understand why tons of fans are likely head-over-heels for this album. NOT RECOMMENDED

July 2016 Album Round Up!

From a record label perspective, July is one of the worst times of the year to release new music. High schoolers are at camp, Jewish high schoolers are DEFINITELY at camp, college kids are grinding it out at minimum wage jobs to pay off their gargantuan student debt, and everyone else is cashing in on their vacation days. There’s a reason this coming September is STACKED with exciting albums – the industry’s waiting for all these fuckers to get back in their groove and start shelling out cash in search of an escape.

Still, July isn’t the wasteland that the end of December is. For those taking a crack at radio, the enticing pursuit of a summer anthem remains, and for others, summer tours like Warped and Summer Slaughter are in full swing and those merch tables look awfully nice when they’re adorned with brand new albums. In the end, July 2016 actually blessed us with quite a bit in the new music department. Below are my thoughts on nine of the records that came out:

California – Blink-182

This much-anticipated comeback from Pop-Punk’s most celebrated band was the first record I snatched up this month. It didn’t matter that Tom Delonge was gone and replaced by Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio, which would likely water things down. I just had to hear it, and I expected greatness. Well, “greatness” was not quite what I was greeted with. It’s a fairly enjoyable listen, but there’s so little on here that doesn’t already exist in a superior form on Enema of the State, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, or the self-titled record. Still, I will recommend 1) the lovably sappy ballad “Home is Such a Lonely Place”, 2) the mellowed out title track, which is littered with awesome vocal harmonies, and 3) “She’s Out of Her Mind”, which is vintage Blink. Oh, and the chorus in “Los Angeles” is fucking enormous. But other than that, there’s not much here in the way of replay value. NOT RECOMMENDED

Great Is Our Sin – Revocation

Boston, MA’s Revocation won me over in 2011 with their excellent third LP Chaos of Forms – some adventurous, versatile Death Metal that was tech-y at times, Thrash-y at times, and often dipped into Melodic Death Metal territory. Albums four and five (2013’s Revocation and 2014’s Deathless) were less experimental and more generic, but still solid. Great is Our Sin is the happy medium – straightforward and well-executed like its two predecessors, but it does a better job of breaking the monotony when needed. Case in point, the album’s closer and undeniable apex “Cleaving Giants of Ice”, which utilizes a – well, giant – melodramatic chorus in the Insomnium or latter-era Enslaved vein. For something more more technical, check “Crumbling Imperium”. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Summer Songs 2 – Lil’ Yachty

An 18-year-old Atlanta MC and freshly anointed XXL freshman, Lil’ Yachty blew up with his debut mixtape Lil’ Boat back in March. Naturally, I ignored it. But Summers Songs 2 came, and curiosity got the best of me. This is Yachty’s sophomore effort, and one key ingredient is egregiously missing: talent. Listen to him deliver the hook to “Life Goes On”, an otherwise decent song with a bright and bubbly beat. Does he realize how off-time his flow is? Even if he does, purposeful does not equal good. Yachty’s the product of the last decade of rap’s more “ignorant” side, and he may be a weirdo like Young Thug or Lil’ Wayne, but he’s nowhere near the former’s charm or the latter’s cleverness. NOT RECOMMENDED

 

Wildflower – The Avalanches

Sampling savants The Avalanches far surpassed ScHoolboy Q for the honor of most anticipated album of July 2016. We have waited longer for the follow-up to 2000’s Since I Left You than we did for Guns ‘N Roses’ Chinese Democracy. But Chinese Democracy was an egomaniacal mess and Wildflower is mind-bending, staggering, awe-inspiring, and every adjective that makes me sound like I’m getting paid off to write this. As with Since I Left You, Wildflower is going to take quite some time to fully process, but it took virtually no time to start enjoying. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Snake Church – Ringworm

Over 25 years into their career, these Cleveland Hardcore vets delivered a ripping eighth LP! Snake Church is a fantastic listen if you’re looking for a Metalcore record that’s truly an audible blend of Metal and Hardcore Punk, and not just a Groove Metal record with a handful of breakdowns. James Bulloch a.k.a. The Human Furnace is as visceral a frontman as ever, and he’s backed by a barrage of (mostly) great riffs. In particular, the track “Shades of Blue” is an uncharacteristically sludgy mid-album highlight that adds another dimension to an oft-monotonous style. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 Blank Face LP – ScHoolboy Q

Q’s follow-up to 2014’s Grammy-nominated breakout project Oxymoron HAD to be worthy of “Top 5 Most Anticipated Hip-Hop Records of 2016” inclusion (perhaps alongside Kanye, Chance, Anderson .Paak, and maybe Kid Cudi because of how hilariously bad Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven was). For me, Blank Face LP turned out to be excruciatingly difficult to review; its stark inconsistencies nearly gave me a brain tumor. There’s pure genius like the jazz-tinged boom bap of “John Muir”, or the g-funk influenced “Neva Change”, a collaboration with R &B and soul singer SZA, but then Q turns around and gives you utter landfill like “Overtime” an insincere swipe at radio, or “That Part”, a dull and predictable club song. Oddly, it’s all neatly divided up into thirds in order of the track list: a disappointing first six tracks, a stellar middle section, and a decent but inconsistent final four songs. Pretty strange. But the heart of the album was banging enough to (mostly) compensate for the record’s egregious misfires. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Retrograde – Crown the Empire

In the five plus years they’ve been active, Crown the Empire have made zero effort to distinguish themselves from their Hot Topic-core contemporaries. But with 2014’s The Resistance: Rise of the Runaways at least they executed the formula admirably. Retrograde, their third full-length, finds them attemping to replicate the success of Bring Me the Horizon’s 2015 commercial powerhouse That’s the Spirit to mixed results. The first half has a couple decent singles like “Hologram” and “Zero”, but even then, these songs are like chugging a bunch of girly cocktails – they’re sweet, sugary, and go down easily at first, but you’re gonna puke them up and have a massive headache eventually. And there’s downright atrocious stuff on here too, like “Signs of Life”, which begs the tired old questions: “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?” Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Poison Red – Nonpoint

YUCK. Granted, Nu Metal and Alternative Metal were before my time so I have no nostalgia to swoop in and rescue this album for me, but STILL…I’m having a hard time understanding how there’s an audience for this in 2016. A flaccid guitar tone, cringeworthy lyrics (“so you wanna be the type of motherfucker that person to person is personally an asshole” is an actual verbatim lyric), and unimaginative riffs are the stuff this record’s made of. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

 

Major Key – DJ Khaled

You can hate on Hip-Hop’s favorite Snapchat goon all you want, but this time around, DJ Khaled actually delivered a solid Pop Rap album! Since a Khaled LP is essentially a singles compilation, that’s how it ought to be judged, and there are more hits than duds on here. “Do You Mind” is one of my favorites. It’s smooth as hell, featuring a sensual piano line and one of the best guest spots Future has ever recorded. And if you’re a fiend for bars, there’s the fiery anthem “Holy Key”, on which Kendrick and Big Sean drop some serious heat, there are entire songs by Nas and J. Cole to munch on, and the track “Don’t Ever Play Yourself” boasts the best verse of the entire album courtesy of Jadakiss (“put me in the Hall of Smack”, anyone?). And the bland stuff, like “Fuck Up the Club”, is fairly inoffensive. RECOMMENDED

 

 

The Top 10 Alter Bridge Songs

Two weeks ago, TeamRock released their list of The Top 10 Alter Bridge songs. It was wrong. Very fucking wrong, to the point where I immediately started brainstorming my own list. And given that “Creed plus Myles Kennedy” just released lead single “Show Me a Leader” from their forthcoming fifth album The Last Hero, the timing feels appropriate.

Cherry picking songs from Alter Bridge’s four studio albums proved to be a strange process, because of their four existing LPs, two of them are excellent and two of them are aggressively mediocre. Fortress, the band’s latest and crowning achievement thus far, is the sound of a Metal-tinged Hard Rock band making a thunderous leap into Metal territory without abandoning their core sound. Blackbird, the band’s sophomore effort, is chalk full of tasteful anthems.

That leaves their debut LP One Day Remains and AB III. The former a) sounds incredibly dated in 2016, and b) though I nowadays refer to Alter Bridge as “Creed plus Myles Kennedy” in a facetious manner, it’s essentially just Creed with better vocals and a bit more edge. Hella boring. As for AB III, many of its unnecessarily high number of tracks just present themselves as Blackbird b-sides, and formulaic and repetitive ones at that. But AB III does have a chunk of good tracks, and if we did a Top 15 I could definitely squeeze a few more in. But having established the lopsided nature of Alter Bridge’s catalogue, it should no longer be a surprise that their four records are disproportionately represented here.

To be fair, I now have slightly more empathy for TeamRock than when I first gawked at their list, because putting this together has been like being stuck in a cesspool of second guesses and mood swings. I’m practically tortured by how much I’ll likely disagree with these picks in a matter of days or even hours. But that didn’t stop me, ‘cause I’m the Little Engine that Could of pretentious music writers. So, without further ado, here are the CORRECT Top 10 Alter Bridge songs! (Just kidding. Sort of.)

10. Ties That Bind (Blackbird)

A fan favorite and the explosive kickoff to the band’s most successful LP, “Ties That Bind” maintains an urgent intensity throughout and does so without sacrificing hooks or memorability. It’s also a sneak peak at the Metal-leaning approach Alter Bridge would explore more fully on Fortress.

9. Still Remains (AB III)

Unfortunately, this is one of only a handful of highlights on the band’s third record. Is it “Come to Life” part 2? Sort of. But its stadium-sized chorus and roaring stop-start riff are nothing to scoff at. Not to mention the Thrash-y bridge section at 2:40 foreshadows what Tremonti would later pursue with his solo band

8. Bleed it Dry (Fortress)

 “Bleed It Dry” is the closest Alter Bridge have gotten to a full-on Metal assault. Shouldn’t be a shocker that it’s one of my favorites. But it’s not just an aggression-fest; the track features an Opeth-style clean guitar break followed by Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti’s best solo section since “Blackbird” (spoiler alert!).

 7. Farther Than the Sun (Fortress)

“Farther Than the Sun” is what Alter Bridge attempted but failed to accomplish on AB III: a seamless synthesis of bright radio rock choruses and crushing, detuned Groove Metal riffs.

6. Open Your Eyes (One Day Remains)

The flawlessly executed radio hit that launched the band’s career still holds up. The beautifully delicate vocals at 2:40 and the ripping guitar solo from Tremonti helped it stand out from the Crossfades and Stainds of the world.

5. Calm the Fire (Fortress)

The intro to “Calm the Fire” is the band’s most adventurous musical passage to date, with Myles Kennedy’s ethereal, neoclassical-tinged vocals sitting atop a brooding acoustic guitar. The dramatic mood continues through a switch to distorted guitar, and the track is kicked into high gear with the pre-version section, which remains one of my favorite moments in all of Alter Bridge’s catalogue.

4. Cry of Achilles (Fortress)

The surprisingly ferocious opener to Fortress quickly informed listeners that this was going to be a different record. After a dark acoustic guitar passage sets things up, the band launch straight into a high-octane riff fest that never lets up.

3. Watch Over You (Blackbird)

“Watch Over You” is the tender, tear-jerking ballad to end all tender, tear-jerking ballads. Kennedy’s warm falsetto in the first chorus yanks at the heart strings, but it’s a dynamic track too – when given a distorted Rock and Roll push, the song not only holds up but builds towards a mountainous climax before settling back into its humble acoustic beginnings.

2. Come to Life (Blackbird)

The quintessential Alter Bridge jam. There’s a lot to love about this track, but its the vocal interplay between Kennedy and Tremonti in the chorus that ultimately makes it.

1. Blackbird (Blackbird)

Well, I guess the folks over at TeamRock did get one thing right. It’s difficult to dispute this one. Powerful and moving lyrics, stellar instrumental arrangements, and a solo section that Guitar World literally voted ONE OF THE BEST OF ALL TIME help “Blackbird” slide comfortably into the number one slot.

February 2016 Album Round Up!

We’re just over two months into 2016, and we’ve already – somewhat surprisingly – been blessed with a ton of exciting releases in the midst of typically low-key winter months. When this calendar year is in the books, will we be looking back at January and February as the peak of 2016? Pretty unlikely. But I still feel like I’ve had a fairly reliable, steady stream of high-profile albums to look forward to (some delivered, some did not). And yes, Kanye dropped. But I’m fucking determined to go as long as I possibly can without hearing it. Not for lack of interest either. Just ‘cause. Anyway, here’s a quick recap of nine albums NOT named The Life of Pablo that I spent some time with this past month. Looking forward to what March has in store!

Khalifa – Wiz Khalifa

In the first project of his I’ve enjoyed since 2011’s smash hit Rolling Papers, Wiz dropped some…well, smoking and drinking music. The production and hooks are significantly more effective – to my ears, at least – than O.N.I.F.C. and Blacc Hollywood (save those two albums’ singles). If you’re looking for great lyricism, steer clear, but I definitely found myself coming back to this record quite a bit for some day drinking and pregaming, especially two exceptional, Kush & OJ-style tracks, “Zoney” and “Elevated”. RECOMMENDED

For All Kings – Anthrax

Welcome back Anthrax! About ten listens in, I’ve evaluated For All Kings as “dangerously close” to the Thrash mastery of 2011’s Worship Music. The difference is really just a filler track or two. But the middle chunk of this record is some of the best Anthrax music I’ve ever laid ears on. Joey Belladonna gets the MVP. My full review is available here. YouTube review here. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Day One – From Ashes to New

This studio debut from Lancaster, PA outfit From Ashes to New made me want to vomit. They’re like an even more cheesed-up version of Twenty One Pilots meets Crown the Empire. I appreciate what they’re trying to do, but it just made me cringe. This guy Matt Brandyberry sounds like an even more melodramatic Mike Shinoda when he utters (well, raps) the words: “I lay awake and look at the ceiling and wonder why/I’m so afraid to face all these feelings and want to die”. And that dubstep-y breakdown? Fuck outta here wit dat. Not to mention the clean vocalist sounds fucking IDENTICAL to the guy on Escape the Fate’s self-titled album. I mean, is Day One heavy and appropriately angsty? Passionate even? Sure. And it’ll dominate with the Hot Topic crowd. But holy fuck is it not for me. NOT RECOMMENDED

Sittin’ Heavy – Monster Truck

Simply put, this band’s sophomore effort is the best fucking throwback hard rock record I’ve heard since perhaps Kyng’s Burn the Serum. It’s all there: it’s energetic, passionate, and wholeheartedly convincing. Fans of ‘70s and early ‘80s Rock should check it out immediately! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

This Unruly Mess I’ve Made – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

This one certainly hurt. Macklemore is someone I really root for, if not always for his talent but for his passion, honesty, humility, and sometimes ruthless self-awareness. The Language of My World is phenomenal, The Heist is a near-classic, but Mess, his second with Ryan Lewis, is a huge disappointment. Save a few shining moments (“Light Tunnels”, “Kevin”, and the must-listen “Need of Know”) this thing is all over the place in a BAD way this time. My full review is available here. NOT RECOMMENDED

I Like it When You Sleep – The 1975

Ok, LP number two for these guys, who seem utterly ubiquitous at the moment. I am absolutely in love with the tracks “This Must Be My Dream” and “Somebody Else”. On the latter, those snare drums with the 80s-style reverb are borderline euphoric. While we’re on the topic of the 80s, the standout “She’s American” could’ve squeezed right into an early Huey Lewis and the News disc. But we didn’t need 17 frickin’ songs here. “UGH!” kind of drags in the wake of hit single “Love Me”, and are BOTH “If I Believe You” and “Please Be Naked” necessary when the title track brings all the dynamics this album needs? Still, at a bare minimum this is a wonderful soundtrack to a night drive in the city. Though I tend to think it offers a whole lot more. And yes, I do think Matt Healy eerily resembles Patrick Stump at times. But we’ll agree to disagree. RECOMMENDED

Victorious – Wolfmother

Ugh. This record has one of the strangest dichotomies in any track listing I’ve ever encountered. The first 5 songs are excellent and on par with some of the best moments on Wolfmother’s debut, and the second 5 songs are pure throwaway filler garbage. “Uneven” is an understatement. My full review is available here. NOT RECOMMENDED

X (No Absolutes) – Prong

Album number 11 for Prong – but their 10th of original material – wastes no time with opener “Ultimate Authority”, some excellent Crossover Thrash which would be right at home on a classic like Cleansing (although I know mentioning that record is understandably played out). I love the dissonant yet super-catchy riff in “Without Words” (and, for that matter, “Soul Sickness”) X (No Absolutes) has an impeccable combination of melody and heaviness that all these scream/sing Metalcore bands can only dream about. It stays completely true to the Prong aesthetic, and it’s a set that is sure to devastate in the live environment. I have yet to catch these legends live, so I’m hoping to get the chance on the cycle for X. RECOMMENDED

Dead Dawn – Entombed A.D.

Dead Dawn (Deicide anybody?) is the second album from Entombed 2.0 since the legendary band’s legal battles and break up. One of Entombed’s distinct qualities is how much more groove-oriented they are than the majority of Death Metal, showcased in the title track, and they’re not afraid to get downright melodic, like in that song’s bridge, which sounds like something Arch Enemy would do.There’s nothing in these ten tracks that’ll blow your mind, but there’s some certainly some heavy-ass (surprisingly fun) metal! I’m especially a fan of “Down to Mars to Ride” and the dynamic “Hubris Fall” And it’s still really not THAT far off from Left Hand Path, so there’s that. RECOMMENDED

 

 

Wolfmother – Victorious Review

The official edited version of this review is available here.

If imitation is truly a form of flattery, each new Wolfmother record marks another occasion for 70s Rock icons like Jimmy Page, Roger Daltrey, and Tony Iommi to sit back with pride and soak up their own legacies. For over a decade, the Australian trio’s calling card has been an uncompromisingly retro delivery of Hard Rock in the vein of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and several more of the genre’s key pioneers. Critically speaking, Wolfmother’s blatantly derivative nature has been a double-edged sword, although when the quality is as unmistakable as their eponymous 2006 debut – a high-water mark the band has unfortunately yet to match – it becomes difficult to take aim at Wolfmother simply because “it’s been done before”.

Album number four for the Aussies, the Brendan O’Brien-produced Victorious, is anything but a stylistic departure. Very little of its lean 36 minutes of 70s-tinged Hard Rock will contain any surprises. What is truly puzzling, however, is the LP’s incredibly odd chronological duality – its first half stands toe-to-toe with the best moments in the band’s catalogue, and its second half is astronomically bland and uninspired.

“The Love That You Give” and the title cut are perhaps the most effective opening one-two punch on a Wolfmother album to date. The former is explosive yet concise as Andrew Stockdale effortlessly channels an early-70s Ozzy Osbourne. The latter is simply larger than life, with an irresistible guitar riff and an appropriately triumphant chorus. The keyboard-laced “Baroness” is another gem, calling to mind the less spacey moments in Blue Oyster Cult’s catalogue.

The band’s crunchy Rock assault is dialed back for the folky ballad “Pretty Peggy”, a tune that’s as anthemic as it is hopelessly romantic. Its slight resemblance to Alternative contemporaries like Mumford & Sons may turn a few heads, but it’s still firmly rooted in the “Going to California” tradition more than anything else. Closing out the first half of Victorious is “City Lights”, a smooth yet upbeat showcase of exuberant Rock and Roll. Stockdale’s vocal harmonies in the chorus are particularly airtight, and producer Brendan O’Brien’s bright, vibrant mix allows the tasteful bass lines to coexist harmoniously with the razor-sharp guitars.

Then, remarkably, as if this superb handful of songs exhausted all of Stockdale’s songwriting chops, Victorious takes a nose dive into its dreadful second half. In terms of memorability, inventiveness, charisma, or any semblance of a dynamic moment, these five tracks offer close to nothing. Promises were made on the album’s outstanding first half that simply couldn’t be kept. The shift is immediately noticeable on “The Simple Life”, which is a satisfying but forgettable affair, redeemed only by a colorful harmonized guitar solo that breaks up the monotony. After the catchy but similarly underwhelming “Best of a Bad Situation”, the LP’s diminished momentum plummets with the utterly lazy “Gypsy Caravan”, which contains the most unimaginative, transparently recycled guitar riff that’s likely to appear on a Rock album in 2016. “Happy Face”, another sludgy Black Sabbath attempt, drones on directionless for its first two and a half torturous minutes, and by the time it picks up its pace – both in terms of tempo and attitude – it’s too little, too late. “Eye of the Beholder” closes the record out with an energetic stomp but another drab, throwaway chorus; at this point, the boisterous swagger of “The Love That You Give” and the title track are barely visible in the rearview mirror.

Perhaps Wolfmother’s revolving door of musicians is its Achilles heel – frontman Andrew Stockdale is essentially a one-man band in the studio, writing and performing everything on Victorious save the drums and occasional keyboards. When it comes to crafting an entire album’s worth of standout Rock music, Stockdale has a hugely demanding task in front of him with each new batch of songs. All things considered, .500 is a commendable batting average, although the record’s two sharply juxtaposed halves are certainly strange. That the track list was knowingly arranged in this fashion is doubtful, but the yin and yang on Victorious is fascinating nevertheless – how even a shining display of excellence like the front half of this record can have a looming shadow not too far behind.

Score: 3/5

Def Leppard – Def Leppard Review

With money still undoubtedly pouring in from sports arenas and strip clubs (well, mostly the latter), not to mention several blockbuster tours with the likes of Kiss, Foreigner, Tesla and others, Def Leppard has no urgency when it comes to making new music. The dreary nineties are ancient history, and in the past decade, nostalgia has done wonders for eighties rock’s biggest exports. Bret Michaels and Tommy Lee somehow remain sex symbols in their middle age, and forty and fifty-somethings are filling arena seats in droves to relive their youth with the music that defined it. One of the indisputable fixtures atop eighties rock’s Mount Rushmore, Def Leppard has the ability to continually capitalize on what they did more than a quarter century ago. Furthermore, it is well documented that bands of Def Lep’s ilk visibly struggle to sell new music, with many of their fan bases fixated solely on the classic era. Tesla’s most recent release Simplicity, for instance, sold under 15,000 copies in its first week.

Thus, Def Leppard’s brand new self-titled studio album can only be approached with one assumption in mind: they made it ‘cause they wanted to. According to guitarist Phil Collen, who has called the album the band’s best since 1987’s sales behemoth Hysteria, this free-spirited approach is precisely the reason it is self-titled. In 2015, Def Leppard represents uncharted territory for the band in terms of creative liberty and a lack of industry pressure.

The band may be on their eleventh studio album, but Def Leppard is defined by three. On last summer’s co-headlining run with Kiss, all but two of the songs on the setlist (“Let’s Get Rocked” from 1992’s Adrenalized and “Two Steps Behind” from the Retro Active compilation) were pulled from High ‘N’ Dry, Pyromania, and Hysteria, the three of which comprise a holy trinity of Def Leppard’s career, the brilliance of which cannot be overstated.

It is, therefore, far from shocking that recreating the greatness of these iconic releases is a central focus on Def Leppard, the follow-up to 2008’s decent but uneven Songs From the Sparkle Lounge. First single and album opener “Let’s Go” is a shameless yet fairly successful reprisal of “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, with frontman Joe Elliot delivering a commanding hook, accompanied by mammoth backing vocals and a stadium-ready stomp – in essence, Def Leppard circa 1987. The jubilant, upbeat “Dangerous” and the bouncy, riff-driven “Man Enough” maintain the momentum, with the former presenting itself as a blend of Hysteria cuts “Armageddon It” and Don’t Shoot Shotgun”.

Several tracks do hint at the High ‘N’ Dry and Pyromania eras of the band, most notably the straightforward “Broke ‘n’ Brokenhearted” and the uptempo “Forever Young”, but the New Wave of British Heavy Metal influence is entirely absent. Those hoping for “Another Hit and Run”, “Stagefright”, or “Mirror, Mirror”-type riffing are advised to look elsewhere.

The band does take several welcome creative risks that diversify the LP and increase its merit. The bluesy acoustic experimentation of “Battle of My Own” pays off in spades, and “Blind Faith”’s unconventional balladry is the perfect way to close things out, with ominous clean guitar arpeggios weaving their way into an acoustic bridge and some tasteful layering of string instruments. “Is it really all a matter of time?” asks Elliot as the album comes to a close.

Sonically, little differs from Songs From the Sparkle Lounge. Like its predecessor, Def Leppard benefits from a crisp, radio-ready mix, a crunchy yet crystal clear guitar tone, and an enviable snare drum sound from one-armed wonder Rick Allen. Rick Savage’s thick basslines also cut through exceptionally well on tracks like “Man Enough” and “Sea of Love”, which contains a note-heavy bass fill in the bridge section.

The album could certainly do without the bland “Invincible”, as well as “Energized”, which is anything but its namesake, dragging drab melodies across a repetitive, synth-based backdrop. Furthermore, the excellent aforementioned “Blind Faith” more than pulls it weight in the ballad department, and while the traditional “Last Dance” and the “Hysteria”-esque “We Belong” are both satisfying, the inclusion of all three is slightly excessive.

But Def Leppard succeeds more often than it fails. Predictable yet enjoyable, with just enough diversity to stand alone in the band’s discography , it more than justifies its existence. While nostalgia-driven acts like Def Leppard often struggle to generate interest in new music, this is a worthwhile listen, particularly for fans of Hysteria and the lighter moments on Pyromania.

Megadeth’s “Fatal Illusion” Single

In the Megadeth world, the last year or so has been a PR whirlwind. There was the failed reunion of the Rust in Peace lineup, the sudden departure of guitarist Chris Broderick and drummer Shawn Drover, the exciting replacement drummer no one saw coming in Lamb of God’s Chris Adler, and a whole lot of sensationalized Blabbermouth headlines. In all fairness, it’s publicity like this that keeps a band relevant after releasing an album that was truly a skid mark on their legendary discography. Being the Megadeth diehard that I am, Super Collider remains the only album by the band that I cannot listen to (yep, Risk included – without Megadeth’s name on it, there’s some decent alternative rock hidden in there). The only thing that could’ve possibly ignited my interest in Super Collider’s follow-up was if the band recruited one of my favorite drummers and potentially my favorite guitar player of all-time…. wait a second, those would be Megadeth’s brand new members, the aforementioned Chris Adler and Angra’s Kiko Loureiro! Based on this alone, Megadeth’s instant jump in my mind from “washed up” to “I can’t wait for their new album” makes me feel like such a wishy washy hypocrite.

This past Thursday, Megadeth’s fifteenth album became public knowledge, with the title, release date, track list, and some truly awesome cover art all revealed, along with the premiere of first single “Fatal Illusion”. The album will be called Dystopia, and won’t be out until January 22nd of next year. I’m not sure whether to be charmed by Universal’s traditional album roll out or concerned by such a resistance to industry change. Either way, we now have the first Megadeth song since June 2013, and I couldn’t have been more curious to hear it.

“Fatal Illusion” is – at a minimum– the best Megadeth song since 2009’s Endgame. After a well-executed intro that allows the song to gradually build, we’re greeted by one of the meatiest bass tones I have ever heard, as David Ellefson introduces the main riff “Peace Sells” style. After that, it’s everything that makes Megadeth great, and everything Super Collider was missing. The song’s powerful main riff is amplified by Chris Adler’s hard-hitting double bass, which segues into a catchy verse groove straight out of the Rust in Peace playbook. Kiko Loureiro and Dave Mustaine sprinkle some indulgent lead playing throughout, adding some spice to the song’s structure. By the time the band erupts into the breakneck bridge section, “Fatal Illusion” has already sold itself. Megadeth are not fucking around this time.

Sonically, “Fatal Illusion” is along the lines of United Abominations and Endgame – the production strikes a successful balance between polish and edge. In addition to Ellefson’s stunning bass tone, the guitars and drums sound like Megadeth again, as opposed to the muddiness of Super Collider and its predecessor, Th1rt3en. Perhaps the biggest critical headache on Super Collider was Dave Mustaine’s lazy, painfully corny lyrical content, but “Fatal Illusion” makes significant strides in this department, despite the backseat role lyrics often assume in Megadeth. If you ask me, “It’s a fatal illusion that evil never dies” is pretty fucking badass.

With “Fatal Illusion”, Megadeth have made quite the statement. Super Collider is already disappearing from the rear view mirror, and the band’s new lineup gives the metal community – young and old – something to be truly excited about. I’m eagerly anticipating Dystopia’s January 22nd release. Well, either that or its inevitable leak.

Show Review: Panic! At the Disco @ City Hall Plaza – Boston, MA 9/17/15

For Boston radio station 92.9 – as well as a couple thousand excited Bostonians – this past Thursday was something to celebrate, with the station hosting and co-sponsoring a free concert in City Hall Plaza featuring alternative rock titans Panic! At the Disco. Surrounded by downtown Boston, the open Plaza area was bookended by a medium-sized outdoor stage in the front and sponsor tents and a crucial row of porta-potties in the back.

With a 5 PM temperature sitting somewhere in the upper-60s, accompanied by a light Boston breeze, the buzzing City Hall Plaza atmosphere felt like an extension of Summer. The Budweiser and Radio 92.9 tents set up in the back greeted me as I made my way across the plaza’s brick floor to the paved area closer to the stage, where a crowd of several hundred people had already formed in advance of opening act DJ Petro. In an interview with Radio 92.9 before the show, Panic! frontman Brendon Urie expressed his excitement: “I’m so stoked we get to play free shows. You get a massive, broader range of people, and it just makes the show insane.” And he was not wrong. For about three hours, City Hall Plaza became a melting pot of music fandom, with everybody from college students, to the Warped Tour crowd, to high school kids with cheap liquor in their Gatorade bottles, to out-of-place, mostly sober adults, all coming together to enjoy some free dinner time Panic! At the Disco, in weather that can only be described as a promoter’s wet dream.

Preceding Panic! was an opening set from the aforementioned DJ Petro, who spun mostly mash-ups for an anxious, rapidly-growing crowd. Throwback combinations of “Man in the Mirror” and “When I Come Around”, as well as “Turn Down for What” and Sum 41’s “Fat Lip” went over particularly well, while I chose to tune out the more painful reminders of my preteen years, like “Hollaback Girl”.

Panic! At the Disco made their entrance at 6:30 PM sharp with the bouncy “Vegas Lights”, easing into the show with one of the few deeper cuts that would divide the crowd. After several shifts, the band’s touring lineup currently consists of frontman Brendon Urie on vocals, guitar and piano, Kenneth Harris on lead guitar, Dallon Weekes on Bass, and Dan Pawlovich on drums. Accompanied by a modest light show that became increasingly central as dusk approached, the tight and energetic four-piece tore through a well-constructed eighteen-song set list for an audience that leaned more towards devoted followers than casual listeners. Less obvious choices like “Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met)” and “Nicotine” did nothing to slow the band’s momentum, all the while satisfying dedicated fans.

Just shy of ten years removed from their classic debut album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, the early Panic! material has not lost an ounce of appeal. The crowd, the majority of whom were likely in elementary school when Fever came out, responded feverishly (yep, I went there) to the energetic “Time to Dance”, “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage”, and obligatory closer “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”.

As the band weaved in and out of material from Fever as well as their other three studio albums – also tossing in well-received new single “Hallelujah” – frontman Brendon Urie’s vocal performance was nothing short of captivating. He embellished the songs with effortless falsetto shrieks and an abundance of charisma. The band also performed a spot-on rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, as well as a medley of Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” and AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Along”, all of which Urie sang to near perfection.

By the time Panic! began to play Ms. Jackson, the twelfth song in their set, nightfall had arrived and the show’s magical, carefree energy received a noticeable bump. The stage lights were now projecting onto the surrounding buildings, the fully packed crowd was mirroring every word, and the last 30 minutes felt altogether more intimate. It was a night I truly felt lucky to be apart of. As I walked out of the crowd during the last chorus of “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”, I felt some of my cynicism for popular music waft away. Sometimes a truly great band does get the spotlight, and when they do, be sure you’re there to witness it.

Mac Miller – GO:OD AM Review

Quick context: the following review was written for a publication that required a 600-700 word count range. The edited version can be read here

“Ain’t saying that I’m sober, I’m just in a better place”, croons Mac Miller over the Tyler the Creator-produced intro to his new album GO:OD AM. The Pittsburgh native’s third full-length LP follows a ten million dollar deal with Warner Bros. Records, a very public battle with substances, and a tireless creative process that resulted in Miller making over nine albums of material before arriving at his third album. No longer an independent artist, his drug use under control, and now approaching his mid-twenties, the word “reinvention” isn’t too farfetched in the Mac Miller conversation.

Perhaps most significantly, in 2015 Miller finds himself free of the “frat-rap” tag that once tortured him early in his career, framing him as a contemporary of the likes of Asher Roth, Sammy Adams, and Chris Webby, rather than the ten other emcees that Kendrick Lamar named in addition to Mac in his scathing 2013 verse on Big Sean’s “Control”. In the four years since Blue Slide Park, his critically-lampooned yet wildly successful debut album, the rapper who was once “Easy Mac with the cheesy raps” – as spit by battle rap extraordinaire Loaded Lux on Miller’s last album – has seemingly been on a never-ending campaign to shake his stigma and prove his worth to hip hop, with three projects that increasingly emphasized lyrical dexterity and artistic ambition, gaining more positive responses every step of the way. With GO:OD AM, Miller finally appears positioned for the true takeover that he has often alluded to.

GO:OD AM finds Mac Miller at his most confident and unapologetic, an aesthetic often absent from his previous work despite his undeniable talent. Lyrically, he continues to be wildly creative, dropping wordplay like “what’s a God without a little OD? /Just a G” on first single and album standout “100 Grandkids”. This time around, though, he raps like he has less to prove. On Miller’s last album Watching Movies with the Sound Off, his bars exuded an almost manic obsession with proving his technical ability, whereas on GO:OD AM he just appears to be having fun, though dense lyrical content certainly takes center stage at many points, such as in the first verse of album closer “The Festival”.

Longtime Mac Miller collaborators ID Labs handle the bulk of the production on GO:OD AM, alongside heavyweights like Flying Lotus, Sounwave, and even Sha Money XL on the first half of “100 Grandkids”. Sonically, the album maintains cohesion despite its diversity, from the trap-influenced, 808-ridden “When In Rome” to the piano and saxophone that close out “Brand Name”.

Though he has always had a flirtatious relationship with melody, Mac Miller’s most noticeable growth on GO:OD AM manifests itself in the songs’ melodic content. On tracks like “Break the Law” and the Miguel-assisted “Weekend” – not to mention the tender career highlight “ROS” – he effortlessly injects small doses of melody into what is still an undeniable hip-hop album. Brilliant future single “Jump”, which reunites Miller with “Donald Trump” hit-maker Sap, contains a hugely effective call-and-response section in the pre-chorus, a back-and-forth between swaggering bars and their melodic counterparts.

GO:OD AM does get occasionally bogged down by an oversaturation of misogyny and sexual innuendos. At times, allusions to sexual exploits become a crutch for Miller, in which he seemingly cannot finish a verse without wordplay about prostitutes, tongues, and vaginas – punchlines that fluctuate between entertaining and distracting. It is especially frustrating considering one the album’s shining moments: the aforementioned “ROS”, a touching, lovesick song that finds Miller as thoughtful and vulnerable as he has ever sounded on record. The introspective “God Speed” is another instance in which the rapper thrives in the absence of goofiness and braggadocio.

Likability has never been an issue for Mac Miller. In fact, it’s been his musical anchor at times, especially while weathering the “frat-rap” storm. On GO:OD AM, Miller loses none of the charisma or likability of his previous work, yet gains an abundance of vision and focus. Considering his second album, Watching Movies with The Sound Off, and last year’s Faces mixtape, GO:OD AM is by no means Mac Miller’s first great project. It is, however, his first work worthy of the tag “essential hip hop listening”.

50 Cent and Nelly in 2015?

I’m going to go out on a limb here. Let’s say that, in America, the peak “turn-up” age is eighteen years old. Sure, bar mitzvah dance floors are packed with nervous middle schoolers looking for that elusive first kiss, and yeah, keeping up with musical trends plays a big role for divorced cougars seeking to rediscover their youth. But generally speaking, the college freshman is popular music’s barometer. Looking back, I don’t understand how I drank and partied that much. Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Every week. Jesus Christ.

Anyway, if you were eighteen back in 2003, you were turning up to 50 Cent and Nelly. You know how I know that? Because I was fucking nine and STILL doing the same thing. The two were inescapable. Whether it was poppy Nelly smashes like “Hot in Herre”, “Shake Ya Tailfeather”, and “Pimp Juice”, or the Biggie-esque rap game domination of 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” and “21 Questions”, 50 Cent and Nelly were in a class of their own. To this day, the legacy of the pair’s legendary early-aughts run is carried on through party-favorite “throwbacks”, in which these same songs somehow serve the same damn function twelve years later.

However, in 2015,  those same college freshmen that partied through 50 and Nelly’s heyday are now thirty years old. Some are pushing strollers, some are meeting with their divorce lawyers, and some are probably doing both. So who exactly is keeping these two relevant?

It’s a good question. 50 has miraculously stayed afloat due to a constant presence in the press, association with Eminem, a recent G-Unit reunion, and the anticipation for his almost-mythological forthcoming album, Street King Immortal . Nelly hasn’t fared as well, with Power 105.1 radio host Charlamagne Tha God famously telling him “you’ve gone cold” on-air a few years back. Musically, the pair have been noticeably absent from the Billboard charts for years now.

And yet I fire up my ITunes on this lovely friday morning in Summer 2015, and the first thing I see is new singles from both Nelly and 50: “Fix You (feat. Jeremih)” and “9 Shots”, respectively. Just the sight made me feel old. But music is an even playing field, and I decided to give both songs the fair shot that my nine-year-old self would be begging me to do.

50 Cent’s “9 Shots”: Produced by Frank Dukes, this is the best beat 50 has spit on since Curtis. Aside from that, it’s the SAME played-out topics. For over twelve years now. 50, you’ve been filthy rich practically as long as you’ve been broke – there is no need to utter the words “I’m a hustler” on a record again. I guess I’ll just never understand artists that follow a formula. I feel like that would become so boring and unfulfilling. Shout out to Nas, the greatest MC of all time, for saying the following on his last album, Life is Good: “I’ve been rich longer than I been broke, I confess/I started out broke, got rich, lost paper then made it back/like Trump being up down up, play with cash”. Given 50’s recent bankruptcy issues, I would think Nas’ sentiments are more true to his story. Please, get over your “brand” and make organic music. But all in all, a solid hip-hop track, if you can see past the all-too-familiar lyrical sentiments .

Nelly’s “The Fix (feat. Jeremih)”: Calling all MILFs! Nelly’s over forty, but his sex game is still on point. Ugh. DJ Mustard has made the same beat for the thousandth time, and Nelly and Jeremih could not be more replaceable vocally. Chris Brown, Miguel, Usher…the Mustard tracks all begin to blend together. The formulaic nature of this track just makes my blood boil. At least with 50, the only issue is some played-out lyrics. The depressing part is this one definitely has potential to be a hit. Hey, if it’s gonna be Nelly, at least there’s some nostalgic value in it. And if “The Fix” does pop off, more power to him (and whoever wrote this song for him) for proving Charlamagne wrong.