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

 

 

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.