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

 

October 2017 Album Round Up!

Why is it that every single year, the last week of October is always the greatest (and, well, busiest) week of the year for music listeners? As much as I know it isn’t, it feels so random to me. If I were a musician, I’d honestly feel comfortable with any release date between the months of April and June, or September to November. But there must be something about this particular week that only the accountants at Atlantic, Columbia and Warner Bros. can explain.

On October 28th of last year, I remember walking out of F.Y.E. with the biggest shit-eating grin on my face, now in possession of brand new records from Avenged Sevenfold, Testament, Serpentine Dominion, and Empire of the Sun. And I’d still barely scratched the surface. 2017 was no different. On October 27th, an overwhelming influx of new music saw the light of day, including but not limited to: Blut Aus Nord, Yelawolf, The Used, Yo Gotti, Weezer, Ty Dolla $ign, Hollywood Undead, Theory of a Deadman, and Winds of Plague. Whew. I’m still catching up. Which might explain why this fucking Round Up is getting posted two days before Thanksgiving.

I hope you enjoy my thoughts on this month’s albums, and believe me – there is a LOT to look forward to by the end of the year! I’ve already giddily begun prepping my numerous Year-End lists, so definitely stay tuned! And for God’s sake, please watch that credit limit this Friday. We wouldn’t want to buy a fucking boat for some middle manager at Visa.

The Sin and the Sentence – Trivium

 The eighth record from these mainstream Metal mainstays (and my personal favorite band from ages 13 – 15) is nothing short of a return to form. The band’s creative decline that plagued their last six years of music – beginning with 2013’s stale Vengeance Falls and continuing with the divisive, radio-friendly Silence in the Snow in 2015 – abruptly ends here with a set of tracks that up the ante considerably on aggression and on musicianship, the latter in part due to the addition of virtuoso drummer Alex Bent. Aside from a few missteps in the track list (e.g. the whiny throwaway ballad “Endless Night”), The Sin and the Sentence should electrify diehard supports and galvanize old fans whose support has waned in recent years.In particular, “Thrown Into the Fire” and “The Revanchist” are two of the best songs of Trivium’s entire career. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Pacific Daydream – Weezer

 Frankly, I’m still enjoying the hell out of The White Album – Weezer’s 2016 effort that found its way onto my Top 10 Albums of the Year last December – so it wasn’t gonna be the end of the world for me if the band’s surprisingly quick follow-up was a slight disappointment. And I’m glad the stakes were low, because as it just so happens, Pacific Daydream was exactly that. Forgettable, cookie cutter material like “Mexican Fender” and “Get Right” are severe momentum killers on both the front and back end of this 34-minute LP. All was not lost, however – mid-album highlights like the wistful “Happy Hour” and the knockout hook on “Weekend Woman” kept it from being a total letdown. We’ll just have to wait and see if the band’s forthcoming Black Album finds them back on track. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Trial By Fire – Yelawolf

One of 2017’s brightest gems that I never saw coming, Yelawolf’s barely-promoted third studio album finds the ambitious but wildly inconsistent Alabama MC finally putting all the pieces together on Trial By Fire, his exceptional third LP for Eminem’s Shady Records. All of my favorite music has one thing in common: it takes you out of your surroundings and transports you to another world, and Yelawolf does exactly that on here. Soundtracked with an imaginative fusion of Country, Blues, Folk, Rock, and Hip-Hop, Yelawolf brings you straight down to his native Alabama with intensely autiobiographical dirt road rhymes and his singular, snarling Southern drawl. We’ll surely be chatting about Trial By Fire next month when I recap my favorite Hip-Hop albums of 2017, but for now, at least check out essential tracks like “Ride or Die”, the Juicy J-assisted “Punk”, and the haunting “Sabrina”. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Lil’ Pump – Lil’ Pump

 I cannot believe this nonsense hit number 3 on the Billboard Charts. I could make this whole mixtape in five minutes. Lil’ Pump’s brand of “Soundcloud” rap is as obnoxious as it is repetitive – there’s absolutely nothing redeeming about the headache-inducing flows on songs like “Gucci Gang”, “Crazy”, and the opener “What U Sayin’”. And even the star power of Rick Ross on “Pinky Ring” doesn’t help, because that discordant fire alarm-mimicking instrumental makes me genuinely angry for the duration of the song, regardless of who’s rhyming. Maybe I’m out of touch, but I really don’t understand what any of these hipster critics see in this shit. NOT RECOMMENDED

Judas – Fozzy

 One of my least favorite Rock releases of the entire year, the seventh LP from Fozzy – the band fronted by WWE Superstar Chris Jericho – is overproduced, formulaic Radio-Rock trash. “Three Days in Jail” is a particularly embarrassing moment as the band briefly attempt to resurrect Nu Metal (yes, rapping and all!) before returning to their cookie cutter Butt Rock. It’s a shame, because I’ve considered myself a fan since I was a teeanger (Chasing the Grail and Sin and Bones still get regular rotation in my car), but Judas better not indicate the direction the band is headed, or they’ve lost me. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Super Slimey – Future & Young Thug

 If people’s would’ve just fucking RELAXED with their unreasonable expectations for this high-profile Watch the Throne-type collab between two of Hip-Hop’s hottest acts, I guarantee they would’ve all enjoyed Super Slimey a hell of a lot more. I sure did. It’s noticeably unrefined and it’s far from perfect, but bangers like “Three” and the Offset-featuring “Patek Water”, as well as the hazy “All Da Smoke” made this auto-tuned meeting of the minds more than worth it. Especially when compared with Future and Drake’s lackluster collaborative What a Time To Be Alive tape from two years ago. RECOMMENDED

Nightbringers – Black Dahlia Murder

 Chalk up another “W” for Black Dahlia Murder. Their first LP to feature lead guitarist Brandon Ellis finds the Michigan metallers right back in tip-top form – in particular, the tracks “As Good As Dead” and the title cut now rank in my top 10 songs of the band’s entire sixteen year career. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Beautiful Trauma – P!nk

 A true dud from the Pop world this past month, the rest of P!nk’s seventh album proves to be even sappier and more vanilla than its sappy and vanilla lead single, “What About Us”. Despite a decent chorus or two (e.g. “Better Life”) or the catchy dance pulse of “Secrets”, there’s just too much major label money riding on this record for it to be interesting. Not even Eminem’s guest appearance on “Revenge” is interesting, and significantly less interesting is P!nk’s pseudo-rapping attempts on that same track. Yikes. NOT RECOMMENDED

 E – Enslaved

 One of the Black Metal’s most important and adventurous trailblazers, Enslaved have been pushing the genre’s envelope for over a quarter century now, constantly searching for more clever ways to fuse the style’s more traditional sounds with the likes of Prog Metal and even various types of Rock music. On E, the band take another step forward, crafting masterful Blackened Prog Metal epics (if that’s, I guess, a genre now?) like “Hiindsiight” and “Sacred Horse”, which co-exist harmoniously alongside more direct cuts like “The River’s Mouth” and “What Else Is There”. An absolutely essential Metal listen, and an outstanding achievement even by Enslaved’s lofty standards. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Losing Sleep – Chris Young

Given that his new LP consists of only ten tracks and a runtime of exactly a half hour, I figured it wasn’t a huge investment to give Country superstar Chris Young a shot. This year I’ve finally started to acquire a taste for one of music’s most critically dismissed genres – good ol’ Country – and Young is one of dozens of beloved mainstream artists that I’ve yet to try on for size. Well, you can imagine my disdain when I was greeted with the exact type of Pop Country genericism that makes people discriminate against this style of music. More often than not, the central lyrical topic of this album is just fucking DRINKING, and nothing else. And the closer “Blacked Out” is supposed to be this tear-stained, heartbroken ballad, but it comes across so shallow with its references to Ray Bans and Mustangs and ten thousand more allusions to – you guessed it – drinking. For Country music in October 2017, the real winner was Darius Rucker with his new LP When Was the Last Time – you’re better off checking out that one and giving Losing Sleep a hard pass. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Thinking Out Loud – Young Dolph

When Was the Last Time – Darius Rucker

Blood of My Enemy – Winds of Plague

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

Heaven Upside Down – Marilyn Manson

Reaper – Nothing.Nowhere.

DON’T LIKE:

True View – Stick to Your Guns

Cold Like War – We Came As Romans

False Idol – Veil of Maya

I Still Am – Yo Gotti

Beach House 3 – Ty Dolla $ign

Deus Salutius Meae – Blut Aus Nord

 

Porter Robinson’s “Eon Break” Single (As Virtual Self)

Time to talk some EDM.

Last Wednesday, one of my favorite Dance songs of the year dropped out of nowhere and it was from some douchebag I had never heard of. His chosen moniker was Virtual Self, and I could only assume he was another anonymous Swedish teenager about to take the music world by storm.

Just kidding. Virtual Self is Porter Robinson. And I knew that going in. Why else do you think I would’ve immediately stumbled upon such a thing?

My first question: why does Porter Robinson need an alter ego? While I really don’t understand, the answer may lie in the drastic stylistic transformation that he undergoes in “Eon Break”. This track embraces a subgenre known as Happy Hardcore, a jubilant, Major-key spin on Hard Techno and Gabber. If you need a quick introduction, this is a great place to start. Or, as it has been explained to me by my friends who really know EDM: “when you think Happy Hardcore, think Dance Dance Revolution”.

While I don’t know jack shit about this style of music, I DO know that I love this fucking song. Its minute-long build is effortless in execution, and the drop is absolutely rapturous. The towering synth melody is accompanied by a background of fluttering cymbals and propelled by a simple quarter-note kick-snare combo that gives it more of a stomp than a pulse.

I’m also fascinated by the final 30 seconds of this song, because those drum rhythms are – no joke – exactly like the drums you’d hear in a Thrash Metal song. It almost made me chuckle at first. First there are those grinding triplets, and then at around 3:14 they erupt into machine gun-like bursts to close out the song. But you know what? I’ll save the EDM-Metal parallels conversation for another time. ‘Cause it’s a big thing I’ve been working on.

Oh, and what a stunning visual that accompanies this single! When you watch the video, be sure to pause the video at around 13 seconds and read all the sentences (questions on the left, statements on the right) that quickly wiz by on both sides of the screen.

In short, this song is absolutely magnificent. And I can’t wait to hear what this Carolina wunderkind has in store next, Virtual Self, Real Self, Porter Robinson, or otherwise.

 

September 2017 Album Round Up!

It’s a good thing that so few people read this blog, or right now I’d be wading through an endless barrage of angry tweets, emails, texts, Snapchats, and God knows what else asking me why the fuck I’m posting a Monthly Round Up on the 17th of the next month.

The truth is, my priorities have shifted towards my YouTube channel a bit lately. Rather than finish up this post in a timely manner, I opted to use my precious windows of free time to react to Eminem’s anti-Trump BET Awards freestyle and make sure my Black Dahlia Murder review kicked as much ass as possible. Oh, and I’ve got another review dropping today. And another one by the end of the week.

Since I love to write – it’s a visceral form of self-expression that will never cease to fulfill me – I’ll always have content for this blog, but as you may have noticed this past month, things might start to get a little more sparse. I’ve just come to the conclusion that it’s better not to spread yourself too thin and really PUSH for one thing at a time. And with a nice bump in subscribers this past month, YouTube is the way to go at the moment.

But, other than a week here and there without a post, nothing else is gonna change. You’ll still get the kind of direct, filter-less, off-color music commentary that you’ve come to (begrudgingly) expect. And as you’ll see, I haven’t DARED tamper with the Monthly Round Up format that has now been the centerpiece of this blog for a year and a half. So, as per usual, let’s take a look at what this month (September 2017) had to offer:

Concrete and Gold – Foo Fighters

 Dave Grohl and the boys have once again reaffirmed their commitment to genuine, organic Rock ‘N Roll with a set of tunes that far outdoes their 2014 outing Sonic Highways. An irresistble single like “The Line” reminds us why The Foos have achieved the commercial success they have, and more ambitious moments like the Pink Floyd-esque title track and my personal favorite, “Dirty Water” give the LP more depth. Oh, and that Clavinet that appears on “La Dee Da”? AWESOME. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Gemini – Macklemore

 Despite being a one-time defender of Hip-Hop’s most hateable white rapper, Gemini is a Macklemore project I can’t stand behind. His first solo outing since 2005’s The Language of My World, this scattered, inconsistent tracklist never really finds its pace. It’s too busy borrowing from other artists (see the Chance the Rapper-biting “Corner Store” or the forced Lil’ Yachty-collab “Marmalade”) or wasting time with Soccer Mom Pop-Rap (see the Ke$ha-assisted “Good Old Days” or a piano-driven ballad like “Excavate”) to ever find a cohesive sound. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Tell Me You Love Me – Demi Lovato

 Though it gets bogged down by bland moments like “Only Forever”, a bit of over-singing on “You Don’t Do it For Me Anymore”, and one God awful Lil’ Wayne verse, Tell Me You Love Me is still a Pop force to be reckoned with. Between the dance floor-ready “Sexy Dirty Love”, the triumphant title track, and “Cry Baby”, a soulfully sung tale of relationship woe, I walked away from this one-time Camp Rock star’s latest LP with considerably more praise than criticism. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Will to Power – Arch Enemy

 Disappointingly, one of my favorite Melodic Death Metal bands dropped the worst record of their career this time around. It’s not that it’s outright bad – most of the time the ideas on this album sound recycled, and when they don’t sound recycled, they sound plain uninspired. And the one time the band DO step outside their comfort zone – the ballad “Reason to Believe”, featuring the first appearance of clean vocals on an Arch Enemy song courtesy frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz – they ruin it with a surrounding blandness. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

 The Aviary – Galantis

 Still riding the enormous success of the single “No Money”, Galantis have presented us with another set of simplistic EDM songs that get the job done and not a whole lot else. “Tell Me You Love Me”, with its almost childlike exuberance, along with the fraternity tailgate vibes of “Hey Alligator”, represent some higher points on the LP, whereas tracks like “Written in the Stars” and the “Hunter” suffer from a looming, unwelcome Top 40 influence that acts as a diluent and relegates The Aviary to “pick your favorite cuts and skip the rest” status. RECOMMENDED

Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness of Decay – Cradle of Filth

 This is another solid helping of theatrical, unapologetically histrionic Extreme Metal from Dani Filth and co. Since it doesn’t do much more than maintain the rock solid status quo set by its predecessors (2014’s Hammer of the Witches and 2012’s The Manticore and Other Horrors), Cryptoriana isn’t gonna leave you in shock and awe, but it’s not an LP you should skip over if you’re a Cradle fan. Whether it’s the catchy, Maiden-esque gallop in “The Seductiveness of Decay”, the haunting choir melodies in “Wester Vespertine”, or the morbidly poetic lyrics of “Achingly Beautiful”, these Brits have come through with another commendable crowd-pleaser. RECOMMENDED

Cold Dark Place EP – Mastodon

 As I explained in a Mastodon discography ranking that I recently filmed for my YouTube buddy Christian McGuire (video out soon!), Mastodon’s brand new EP is the most interesting music the band have made since 2009’s Prog opus Crack the Skye. The fucking steel guitar on “North Side Star” and the title track especially? OH MY GOD! This post-Metal-y little adventure is radically different from anything the band has done and I am so fucking down for a full album in this style! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Wonderful Wonderful – The Killers

 This fifth record from the Killers (has it really only been five??? They’ve been around forever!) with its New Wave-inspired synths and ‘80s Pop rhythms, could’ve been a fitting Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack if it came out in 1982 – at least a good portion of it. The driving “Run for Cover” feels like a mix of Huey Lewis and Bryan Adams, while the bouncy dance vibes of “The Man”.That’s not to say that Wonderful Wonderful is entirely retro – Psych-Pop contemporaries like Tame Impala shine through on the title cut, while “Out of My Mind” is certainly in line with the recent out put of The 1975. Definitely worth checking out, Killers enthusiast or not. RECOMMENDED

 The Stories We Tell Ourselves – Nothing More

While I had initially written this band off as “Butt Rock” (and therefore unwelcome in my listening rotation), this fifth record of theirs got enough ridiculous Twitter hype that I decided to check it out. And you know what? I’m glad I did. As I discussed HERE, the track “The Great Divorce”, with its irresistible guitar line in the chorus and anthemic vocals from frontman Jonny Hawkins, is one of my favorite Rock songs of the year. And I dug some of the slightly industrial moments too, like “Ripping Me Apart”, which has little pieces of Godflesh lurking inside its shiny mainstream packaging. RECOMMENDED

 Prophets of Rage – Prophets of Rage

 So here’s what an undercooked Rage Against the Machine album would sound like with two aging rappers (in this case, Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Cypress Hill’s B-Real) ranting about justice over it. My biggest beef with Prophets of Rage’s music is that there’s no discussion of concrete issues – aside from one weed legalization song (“Legalize Me”, what a shocker) it’s all these vague allusions to poverty and the 1 percent and homelessness but no constructive dissection of how the current political climate affects these problems or how we can work to enact change. Politicians are liars? No shit, Sherlock. I get it. But if you’re gonna make a politically-charged album, why is it that I learned nothing and there was no compelling call to action anywhere to be found? NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Thrice Woven – Wolves in the Throne Room

Sleep Well Beast – The National

All the Light Above It Too – Jack Johnson

Awake – Illenium

Clairvoyant – The Contortionist

Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

DON’T LIKE:

Life Changes – Thomas Rhett

Deep Calleth Upon Deep – Satyricon

Double Duchess – Fergie

Younger Now – Miley Cyrus

Ludacris’ “Vices” Single

He may have been the shiznit back in Elementary School when the clean version of Word of Mouf was permanently nested in my Walkman, but Ludacris and I have not had a relationship for many years now. The last Ludacris album I enjoyed was in 2008. The last Ludacris movie I enjoyed – besides none of them – was in 2011 (he had a minor role in No Strings Attached, a movie I sort of half-liked, mostly because it centered on Natalie Portman having sex).

And wackest of all was his selfish, hypocritical reaction to the Paul Walker jokes that were made at the Roast of Justin Bieber, especially considering there were several jokes made about 9/11 which, unlike one person driving too fast one time, was a national tragedy in which we lost nearly 3,000 of our citizens in the worst domestic attack the nation has ever seen. So we can joke about that but not Paul Walker. Sure. But, I digress.

This doesn’t mean I don’t still give the guy a chance. Underrated not only for his lyricism but also his unparalleled ability to jump on a Pop song and actually ADD to it (see: “Glamorous”, “Yeah!”, “Baby”, etc.), I’m always rooting for Luda. I thought he KILLED his verse on Future’s “Same Damn Time” remix, which might’ve been over five years ago now, but that’s the best reference I’ve got at the moment.

I was as surprised as I was intrigued when, pretty much out of the blue, Luda dropped his new single “Vices” last Wednesday. Its title gave it the initial appearance of a party track. I had to see if Christopher Bridges has any more gas left in the tank.

Right off the bat, I wasn’t too impressed with Luda’s opening rhyme scheme – that whole “bottles/shots/models/thots” thing? Yeah, that didn’t do it for me. Nor did the rest of his bars, where he talks about “skanks” and “dank” and dressing in expensive clothes. Super exciting.

I still think he has one of the illest flows, though. Whenever I hear Ludacris spitting, it always sounds like he is in complete control of the beat, almost as if he’s hovering above it, pulling the strings and dictating its pace. At any moment he could let out a flurry of double time rhymes. On “Vices” his quick tongue is notably restrained, but an air of anticipation still lurks around the corner of every bar, as if the dude could go off at any time. Even with the vapid subject matter at hand here, Luda still out-raps a large majority of Hip-Hop’s current generation, by a pretty wide margin.

The instrumental here is a solid, appropriately minimalistic choice – a steady stream of hazy eighth notes from a synth sit atop a laid back drum groove, with only an extra six-note keyboard loop to signal the song’s chorus. Luda’s message here, ultimately, is that we all have our indulgences, and not only is it perfectly ok to partake in them if we so choose, but it’s nobody’s place to pass judgment. At the end of the song, he urges listeners to “worry ‘bout your own fuckin’ life” and “stay the fuck up outta mine”. And you know what? Since drinking, smoking weed, and fucking girls isn’t all that interesting (especially when you’re forty years old), I have no issue complying.

August 2017 Album Round Up!

Welcome to the Monthly Album Round Up: Back to School Special! (Unfortunately, as much as I regret to inform you, this one doesn’t come with a Tax Holiday!) If you’re a bright, diligent, hard-working young student (wow, listen to how full of shit I sound), I hope your new school year is off to a great start; if you’re a parent that’s finally gotten rid of your toddler/teenager/college-aged manchild, I hope your newfound freedom has been soothing and has lessened the chances that you’ll kill yourself in the near future.

One look at a release calendar like this one should tell you all you need to know – Fall Release Mania is right around the corner!

I couldn’t be more excited to for this onslaught of new music from all corners of the industry. As always, I’ll be reviewing at least one or two albums every week on my YouTube channel, so be sure to head over there and subscribe to stay up-to-date!

As for August 2017, several artists really came through in the clutch for me! Hip-Hop wise, I was constantly bumping A$AP Ferg’s new project. In the Pop world, I found myself unexpectedly digging the first post-Camila Cabello Fifth Harmony album. And Melodic Death Metal legends The Haunted gave us undoubtedly one of the Metal albums of the year with their ninth LP Strength in Numbers. So there was a lot to be stoked on this month, and I’d say we’ve got plenty of momentum as we drift away from Summer and into the clutches of Autumn.

Here’s to Fall 2017! Don’t let me down….that terrible Chainsmokers song compels you.

Rainbow – Kesha

Though it’s miles more sophisticated than the days when she was brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack, Ke$ha’s (or, sorry, “Kesha’s”) highly acclaimed new record is still way overhyped. Her third overall and first since her widely publicized sexual assault case against her producer Dr. Luke, Rainbow is, by all accounts, an adventurous and deeply vulnerable album – it’s just inconsistent. While I really enjoy the spunky punk-infused “Let ‘Em Talk”, the brazen feminist anthem “Woman”, and the Country detour “Hunt You Down”, the rest of the LP is full of bland, by-the-numbers “I’ve been through soooo much” Pop songs (e.g. “Learn to Let Go”, “Finding You”, and the title track). And I’m already beyond sick of the Ryan Lewis-produced ballad “Praying”, which is getting some significant airtime and is setting itself up to be the next “Hello” (sorry Adele fans, hated that one too). So while Rainbow is without a doubt her best album yet, and I admire Ke$ha greatly for laying bare the very real heartbreak she’s experienced in the past few years, but I’m not as into the music as a majority of Pop fans seem to be. NOT RECOMMENDED

Paranoia: A True Story EP – Dave East

The debut Def Jam release from Harlem’s own Dave East – one of last year’s XXL Freshmen and a noted Nas protégé – is an abbreviated and uneven but overall satisfying EP to hold fans over until his proper debut full-length. Despite some underwhelming cuts like “Phone Jumpin’” and “My Dirty Little Secret” that lack in the hook department, East definitely impressed me on “The Hated”, which finds him flexing his storytelling prowess, “Perfect” in which he teams up with Chris Brown for a well-executed strip-club song, and “Maneuever”, which is brought to life by palpable chemistry with fellow NY rapper French Montana. While this wasn’t the knockout project I hoped for from Dave East, he has given me every reason to believe that he has one in him. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Strength in Numbers – The Haunted

 With their ninth record, The Haunted delivered modern Thrash Metal at a level that Metallica, Slayer, Overkill, Testament, Exodus, and Megadeth have ALL failed to reach this side of 2010. And while The Haunted will always be classified as a Melodic Death Metal band, this is a Thrash record. I don’t care what you think. It’s like listening to Testament’s The Gathering if Chuck Billy was even meaner and the riffs were twice as pummeling. And this album’s laser focus on great choruses may be its greatest asset– tracks like “Spark” and “Preachers of Death” hone in on gritty but memorable hooks in a way that The Haunted’s contemporaries simply do not. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Fifth Harmony – Fifth Harmony

This superstar girl group’s first album post-Camila Cabello is a surprisingly tight, well-rounded, sharply written, and charismatically performed ten tracks. In particular, the irresistible “Deliver” is one of my favorite songs of the summer. And ballads like the dancehall-influenced “Don’t Say You Love Me” and Shaggy-interpolating “Messy” provide a nice balance for party songs like “Sauced Up” and the smash single “Down”. While some of the lyrics may be as irritatingly unimaginative as expected, and a few moments fall flat (“Make You Mad”, “Angel”) this LP was a nice surprise for me. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Still Striving – A$AP Ferg

 Truth be told – I had precisely ZERO intentions of writing about this mixtape (or even listening to it more than once, for that matter). Ferg’s 2016 LP Always Strive and Prosper was one of the worst Hip-Hop releases I heard all year, and the last thing I wanted to do was waste more of my precious time on messy, store brand Trap/EDM mash-ups. But thank GOD I kept an open mind, ‘cause I could not have been more wrong this time around! Still Striving is a thrilling collection of slappers, whether it’s the Migos collab “Nasty (Who Dat)”, which begs to be cranked to 11, or perhaps the catchiest cut of the bunch, “Aww Yeah” with Lil’ Yachty. There’s also the spitterific “East Coast Remix”, with everyone from Busta Rhymes to Dave East to French Montana to frickin’ Snoop Dogg going at it in high-caliber fashion. Still Striving is the Hip-Hop release that I’ve been shamelessly plugging to everyone I know that’s remotely into the genre. Do NOT sleep on this! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Dead Cross – Dead Cross

Noisy, chaotic, and eccentric (I mean this is MIKE PATTON on vocals, after all!), this supergroup’s self-titled debut met all of my weirdness expectations and many of my musical ones too. Dead Cross is an eclectic mix of Hardcore Punk, a bit of Thrash Metal, some noisy, avant-garde Rock, and lord knows what else. One listen to a remarkably strange ball of energy like “Obedience School” will likely turn many listeners off, but close examination of an explosive cut like “Gag Reflex” is rewarded by some seriously awesome riffing from guitarist Mike Crain. Not to mention, “The Future Has Been Cancelled” takes home the gold in the Song Title Olympics. This record is a must-listen for Mike Patton fans, and a “you probably SHOULD listen” to any Hardcore or Thrash fanatics looking for a radical departure from their typical day-to-day mosh-fare. RECOMMENDED

Luv is Rage 2 – Lil’ Uzi Vert

Coming off his guest appearance on the Migos’ smash single “Bad and Boujee”, 2016 XXL Freshman Lil’ Uzi Vert’s buzz couldn’t be bigger right now. So it wasn’t a shock to see this – his debut studio album – hit number one on the Billboard charts. Production is handled by the likes of Pharrell, Metro Boomin, TM88, Don Cannon, Illmind, and more heavy hitters, so the beats are top shelf, to say the least. And while Uzi’s approach as an MC is clearly in line with the Hip-Hop zeitgeist, featuring heavily auto-tuned, sometimes half-sung bars in various trendy flows (hence, his popularity), he can’t hold me attention for this whole project. A song like “For Real” is as repetitive as it is vapid. But feel free to try out a couple fun tracks, like the turn-up cut “Sauce It Up”, or the Pharrell-assisted “Neon”. NOT RECOMMENDED

 Dear Desolation – Thy Art is Murder

So….I’m not typically a Deathcore fan. New releases from this corner of the Metal world consistently rank as the biggest time-wasters in my listening calendar, and that’s putting it nicely. All that being said, I’m so glad that I gave this album (and this band) a shot, because Dear Desolation is the exception to the rule. The first half of this LP in particular is full of pummeling, crisply produced Extreme Metal. The constant stream of breakdowns – which is something that usually bores me to tears with other albums in this style -are able to remain effective because band keeps the riffs exciting and the tempos dynamic throughout these 38 minutes. Thy Art is Murder certainly aren’t reinventing the wheel, but I commend them for making a listenable album within a (mostly) unlistenable style of music. RECOMMENDED

 

Painted Ruins – Grizzly Bear

For the most part a pretty chill, spaced-out, and zen eleven tracks, Grizzly Bear’s fifth LP was my ultimate soundtrack to quiet, contemplative Tuesday evenings on my porch this month (due to my work schedule, Tuesday night is my version of “Sunday night”, if that helps paint the picture). Though I’m not too knowledgeable about the band’s catalogue, I’ve enjoyed vibing out to relaxing songs like “Glass Hillside”, “Three Rings”, “Systole” (featuring incredibly dreamy vocal harmonies!), and “Neighbors” (which has a slight psychedelic touch). The band’s musical ability is evident in their thoughtful, occasionally unorthodox chord choices (there’s a conspicuous jazz influence embedded in many of these tracks), and I’m impressed to the point that I feel compelled to dig through their first four records and familiarize myself. ‘Cause next album cycle, I’ve gotta be ready! RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

The Rise of Chaos – Accept

Science Fiction – Brand New

The Golden Age 2 – Dizzy Wright

Galaktikon II: Become the Storm – Brendon Small

Renaissance in Extremis – Akercocke

Villains – Queens of the Stone Age

DON’T LIKE:

Deadweight – Wage War

Hell Yeah – KMFDM

The Reign – Hinder

17 – XXXTENTACION

 

August 25th Singles: Taylor Swift, Miguel, Demi Lovato & more!

So, Summer ‘17 is essentially over. Whether you spent it at camp, or down in Argentina building houses or some type of “do-gooder” shit, or you just continued to slave away at your 9-5 with one less layer of clothing on like I did, I hope these last few months advanced your life forward in some type of positive way. But most importantly, of course, let’s hope Rick Ross’s entire posse got rich like he firmly suggested would be the case. ‘Cause ultimately, that’s what matters in life. Rick Ross’s posse.

Anyway, the end of summer means that the back-to-school music rush is upon us! These next couple months are gonna be as wonderful a time as ever to be a fan of stuff that involves notes, rhythms, melodies, singing, yelling, or anything that remotely resembles music.

With countless release dates stacking up, we began to see a lot of high-profile singles popping up this past week. So many, in fact, that I felt compelled to write about what I heard. For this article, I specifically went after all the A-list stuff. Sure, I could’ve talked about the new Arch Enemy song or whatever, but isn’t it more fun to talk about things that make people gobs of money? Like a Taylor Swift album cycle launch? No? Well, too bad.

Here’s a quick synopsis of a bunch of big-time singles that came out on or around this past Friday:

Sky Walker (feat. Travis Scott) – Miguel

BANGER ALERT! Wow. I’m not sure what floors me the most, how flawlessly Miguel crafted this more Hip-Hop influenced, Weeknd-ish ode to self-indulgence and bravado, or how well Travis Scott’s voice gels with his. Scott is like Miguel’s drug-soaked, auto-tuned sidekick – the two have so much chemistry, you’d think they’ve already done a whole album together (and hey, after hearing this, I’d probably want that to happen!) And this track, while smooth and swaggering as all hell, also has a bit of a goofy, tongue-in-cheek, wink-wink-nudge-nudge kind of thing going on, ‘cause after all, the ridiculous line “Luke Skywalkin’ on these haters!” is part of the refrain.

I don’t know when the next Miguel album is dropping, but whenever that is, I want an album full of THIS!

You Can’t Control It – Jack Johnson

 Listening to this infinitely soothing new single from Jack Johnson – a master of folky singer-songwriter pleasantries – I can practically feel my inner tension loosening. It’s almost like a massage (well, minus the part where you roll over and offer 60 bucks for a happy ending).

The third single from his forthcoming seventh album All the Light Above It Too, “You Can’t Control It” is not only pure calming pleasure sonically – featuring sweet, gentle guitar melodies married with Johnson’s reverb-drenched croon – but there’s something so freeing about hearing that phrase, “You Can’t Control It”. ‘Cause when you walk around feeling like everything is up to you, and everything is your responsibility, you apply this immense pressure to yourself that can be suffocating at times (for instance, I didn’t sleep a wink a couple nights ago because, well, I did just that). Perhaps this song is Johnson’s best cure for what he refers to here as “the war within your head; one that you could never win.”

Look What You Made Me Do – Taylor Swift

As the Internet has already redundantly established, T. Swift’s first solo track in nearly three years is fucking terrible. Why have I – and thousands, if not millions of other irritated eardrums – come to this conclusion? Well, there’s a lot of reasons. I will outline three of them:

Reason 1: the unbearable corniness of the “Kanye West diss” that’s at the heart of it. “I’ve got a list of names and yours is in red, underlined”……oooo, no you didn’t Taylor! Or how about my personal favorite line, when Taylor defiantly chirps: “I got harder in the nick of time”? Hey, it’s always good to know that T. Swift can come through with some clutch erections down the stretch.

Reason 2: the obnoxious hook. Which, by the way, I was so busy being angry at it that I didn’t even pick up on the fact that it was an interpolation of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy”. Shame on me. But it still sucks. And it’s about as likeable as Meaghan Trainor’s “Me Too”. Yeah, I went there.

Reason 3: worst of all, this song is attempting to be some sort of Dance-Pop. Meaning it might start getting played in bars….meaning after paying some bullshit cover charge, I might have to turn around and walk out on all of my friends if it comes on. Either that, or I’ll have to stay home for the next 15 months until the coast is clear.

But who knows, maybe the album will be decent. It’s still early.

You Already Know (feat. Nicki Minaj) – Fergie

After over four years of rumors and eleven total years of elapsed time since her solo debut, Fergie Ferg is finally dropping her sophomore LP Double Dutchess on September 22nd. One of its singles (“L.A. Love”) is three years old. Two more of them we already heard a while ago too. Can’t say I’ve got much going on in the anticipation department when it comes to this record.

Stylistically, Fergie’s been trying a lot of shit. I already gave my mixed two cents on her tropical house adventures on “Life Goes On”, and I think we can all agree that “M.I.L.F. $” (which will also appear on Double Dutchess) is a tasteless Hip-Pop attempt. As for “You Already Know”? It’s a little better, but not by much. It’s obviously crafted for high-energy dancefloor type situations, but Fergie’s obnoxious and completely overcooked rapping steps all over the beat. Nicki Minaj brings a bit of genuine lyrical finesse to offset it, but ever since the record-shattering horror that was Fergie’s “All of the Lights” appearance, I just can’t take her seriously when she tries to rap.

 Tell Me You Love Me – Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato is yet another A-lister ramping up for a late-September album release. “Tell Me You Love Me” is our second taste of her forthcoming sixth record of the same name, and I gotta say, this is one of my favorite Pop songs of the Summer.

I hate using the term “empowering” – in my mind, it often equates to corny Liberalspeak – but this track does have such an uplifting sound that it’s tough to squeeze in any other adjective. The instrumental during the chorus absolutely KNOCKS – those triumphant horns and the booming snare and bass are a hell of a combo. And lyrically, if you ask me, there’s something so sweet and so romantic about admitting to a (SMALL) degree of co-dependence – strong relationships are, after all, partially built on a mutual feeling of importance in each other’s lives, and that’s something Lovato captures beautifully here. Hopefully this one doesn’t get beaten to death by radio.

Pizza – Martin Garrix

Bookended by a sweeping cinematic build-up and comedown, the latest single from this Dutch EDM Wunderkind is a sunny, rapturous burst of energy. What I first saw as cheesy and cookie-cutter has evolved into a fun, simplistic escape and a slight guilty pleasure for me. Truth be told, this song breaks exactly ZERO ground as a stereotypical House track (don’t let the intro and outro distract you into thinking otherwise), but it continues to grow on me with repeated listens. Gonna be a great tune to soundtrack some end-of-summer hangouts.

July 2017 Album Round Up!

And so concludes (well, almost three weeks ago now) my least productive month of the year. I’m not gonna lie, I spent most of July either working myself to death at things that, you know, actually make money, or spending my “free time” blowing off all my hobbies to zone out and do nothing. Though I’m frustrated with how the past few weeks have gone – seriously, I haven’t shot a YouTube video in over a month… I’m practically gonna forget how to do it – the sheer act of writing this post is making me excited to jump back in with both feet.

As far as the albums below, don’t expect any sort of brilliant insight or compelling analysis from me; I was very passive with nearly everything I did this month, and unfortunately that included how I consumed music. But that doesn’t mean I had a shortage of opinions! I’m actually pleasantly surprised at the strength of July’s release calendar this year, especially since I remember writing something a year ago about how July is usually a dull, relatively uneventful time of year for new music. But I’m happy to say that in 2017 I was wrong as a motherfucker! Here’s to all the great new songs that have seeped their way into my life, and most of all, here’s to getting back on track!

Flower Boy – Tyler, The Creator

With his first major label studio album Flower Boy, Tyler, The Creator stripped away some of the over-the-top absurdity (both sonically and lyrically) of his past works and gave us both his most accessible, mature, laser-focused project to date. It’s full of the music that I always felt like Tyler had in him but was never gonna make – it’s a wonderfully shocking surprise. On this entirely self-produced affair, Tyler’s instrumentals are impressively diverse – “Who Dat Boy” is a tense banger with a mix meant for bumping in the whip, “See You Again” has a slight cinematic touch, whereas the closing cut “Enjoy Right Now, Today” has an almost cartoonish-ly upbeat, hopeful, and optimistic vibe to it. Oh, and I also gotta mention the nostalgia-laced November as a standout track! I can’t recommend Flower Boy enough as an honest, gimmick-free look into one of Hip-Hop’s most unique minds. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Autobiography – Vic Mensa

With what is quite possibly my favorite Hip-Hop release of the entire Summer, the 2014 XXL Freshman unleashed a phenomenal debut album that more than justifies all of the hype surrounding him (if last year’s EP There’s A Lot Going On didn’t already). Not only do I love the way he SOUNDS on a beat, but the guy can rap his fucking ass off, as showcased on the syllable-stacking first verse in “Killa Cam”, or the particularly impressive “Heaven on Earth”, which finds Mensa spitting three different intricate verses from three different perspectives. As promised by the title, these tracks are deeply introspective, personal, and often narrative driven – the Weezer-sampling “Homewrecker” describes a turbulent relationship, and “Wings” features a self-hating tantrum in the vein of Kendrick Lamar’s “u”. But Mensa still has time to sneak in an absolute banger with “Rollin’ Like a Stoner”, which is what would happen if Kid Cudi’s “Day ‘n Nite” got in a time capsule and merged with Travi$ Scott. To top it all off, cuts like “The Fire Next Time” prove that Mensa knows his way around a hook too. I am beyond impressed – I can’t wait to see what this guy does next. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Everything Now – Arcade Fire

With Arcade Fire’s hugely anticipated follow-up to 2013’s Reflektor (an album that, four years later, critics are still furiously jerking off to), I’m having some difficulty wholeheartedly embracing their latest change of direction. Featuring a very prominent dance music vibe, Everything Now often feels like I’m listening to Indie Rock meets Disco meets Lonerism-era Tame Impala. And though there are definitely some high points, such as the funky basslines in “Good God Damn” and the uber melodic, almost syrupy “Put Your Money on Me”, this record’s sound has left me less than enthusiastic. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for now and suggest that you give it a whirl (after all, I may still just be overly attached to 2011’s The Suburbs), but I’m gonna need a lot of convincing to avoid labeling Everything Now as Arcade Fire’s weakest record to date. RECOMMENDED

Ritual – In This Moment

I have followed In This Moment for eight years now, but I’ve only been able to tolerate their music for about four of those years. The band’s increasing descent towards cookie cutter Alt-Metal – which reached an apex with 2014’s vapid Black Widow – is something I just CANNOT get into. The trend continues on Ritual, another LP that finds me equally annoyed with its hyper-processed sound and Maria Brink’s histrionic vocals. Worst of all, the cover of “In the Air Tonight” is in extremely poor taste – the band drowns the Genesis classic in overly showy, bombastic melodrama. But I have to praise the sleazy Party Metal vibes of “Black Wedding”, which features a killer appearance from Rob Halford and a wonderfully creepy piano line. I enjoy the acoustic guitar playing on “Twin Flames”, as well as the Pop-Metal number “Joan of Arc”, which is heavily reminiscent of late-90s Marilyn Manson. Ritual is not a total disaster by any means, but I won’t be returning to it. NOT RECOMMENDED

Issa Album – 21 Savage

When it comes to 21 Savage and I, it’s really as simple as this: I do NOT understand the appeal. At all. The guy’s M.O. seems to be to create the ultimate hood soundtrack, but in my experience, the Hip-Hop albums that best capture the essence of the underworld and bring it to life (e.g. Young Jeezy’s debut album) are much more forcefully self-assured in bravado, vivid in stories, and lively in energy. To me, 21 Savage’s music is not “lit” at all – in fact, it puts the lights OUT and makes me doze off. Couple that with some truly atrocious rhyming (on “Dead People” he says he’s “single like a pringle”) and you have Issa Album. An album it may be, but I can’t say issa good album. NOT RECOMMENDED

Lust for Life – Lana Del Rey

 Man, I could listen to Lana Del Rey’s silky, reverb-soaked vocals all day long. Her fifth full-length LP is some of the best music to just zone out to, whether it’s the ethereal eroticism of the title cut (which, whoever thought of that Weeknd collab is a brilliant, brilliant human being), the entrancing ballad “Cherry”, or the Hip-Hop infused “Summer Bummer”, the latter which is driven home by Playboi Carti and A$AP Rocky’s hazy guest rhymes. A truly one-of-a-kind talent, Lana has now delivered four excellent albums in a row, shoring up one of the strongest discographies of this decade. Much like Lorde, she’s an A-list mainstream sensation whose music, refreshingly, offers anything but the status quo. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Consume – Integrity

After only 30 years and nine full-length studio albums, I’ve finally hopped on board for Integrity’s tenth record. Approaching Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Consume, I was under the impression that Integrity was a Hardcore Punk band, but after ripping through this track list a few times, I felt like “Hardcore” is a label that so reduces the wide scope with which this band – and this LP – approaches heavy music. Alongside more straight-ahead muscular mosh music (“Burning Beneath the Devil’s Cross”) is Thrash (“Hymn for the Children of the Black Flame”), a bit of Black Metal (“Blood Sermon”), and even some New Wave of British Heavy Metal influences (“Die With Your Boots On”). This album took me on a wild, exciting ride through many corners of the Metal genre, and has me anxious to dive into Integrity’s back catalogue. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Forest Seasons – Wintersun

Why the fuck is everyone being so tough on this album? Who cares if Wintersun – one of Metal’s least prolific and most enigmatic bands to come out of the 21st century – wants to release three albums in the span of 13 years?? How about we just judge this as the great Metal record that it is, instead of holding it to some lofty expectations that result from that whole “well, if it took this long, it’s gotta be….” type of thinking. The Forest Seasons may not reach the heights of Wintersun’s masterful self-titled debut, but it’s an exciting combination of Symphonic Metal, Melodic Death Metal, and some touches of Black Metal and Power Metal here and there. It’s like Insomnium plus Dimmu Borgir plus Children of Bodom and a touch of Nightwish. In a month where I barely listened to any Metal, Wintersun gave me my fix with this incredibly engaging, dynamic record. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Low Blows – Meg Mac

Though up-and-coming Australian singer/songwriter Meg Mac definitely has a few excellent tunes under her belt (namely the swaggering, self-assured “Never Be”, which I couldn’t stop listening to while I was interning at her label a couple summers ago), I’ve found her debut album to be pretty vanilla. Which, that doesn’t necessarily carry a negative connotation – Mac has an undeniable ear for melody, vocal harmony, and simple but effective arrangements – but I’ve been struggling to come up with reasons to replay this LP. I suppose it’s not helped by a couple of bland throwaways (e.g. “Shiny Bright”) that bog down its second half. If you’re into the singer/songwriter genre, Low Blows is definitely an album worth your attention, but I don’t see myself coming back to it much. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Jungle Rules – French Montana

Dead Reflection – Silverstein

Tha Truth, Pt. 3 – Trae Tha Truth

Hug of Thunder – Broken Social Scene

Sacred Hearts Club – Foster the People

DON’T LIKE:

Steve Aoki Presents Kolony – Steve Aoki

Anticult – Decapitated

Defying Gravity – Mr. Big

Crook County – Twista

 

Top 5 Mid-Year Hip-Hop Albums of 2017

Hip-Hop is in a weird place in 2017.

Remember that “new generation” of great MCs that’s been endlessly debated about – you know, all those people Kendrick named in his “Control” verse four years ago? Well, they’re not so new anymore. They’re nearly a decade into their careers now. Meanwhile, the genre’s “new faces” could not be a less cohesive bunch; people seem to like Lil’ Yachty ‘cause he’s weird, 21 Savage ‘cause he’s scary, and XXXTenacion ‘cause, well, he’s a SoundCloud rapper that dissed Drake.

What is the SOUND of Hip-Hop in 2017? I have no earthly idea how to answer that question. It’s everything and it’s nothing. “Mumble rap” may be a common contemporary term that’s thrown around, but there’s too much negative connotation associated with it for the style to have much longevity (see also: “ringtone rap”, circa 2007). And “Trap” may loosely describe the sonic backdrop of much of the genre’s mainstream output, but then how would we explain the popularity of industry darlings like Chance the Rapper, Danny Brown, and Joey Bada$$> Adding more confusion to the situation, we can’t forget that Hip-Hop’s elder statesmen – the Jay-Zs, the Eminems, and Nases of the world – are STILL relevant and still breaking the Internet with new music, much of which eschews the sounds of the young guns.

But Hip-Hop is also in a good place in 2017.

It continues to broaden and expand and reinvent itself and if you ask me, it’s as diverse as it has ever been in its near-forty year history. And in 2017 thus far, as it does every year, the genre has done what it does best; it’s offered us some jaw-dropping greatness, and it’s served up some real shit sandwiches (I’m looking at YOU, Machine Gun Kelly). But in this article, we’re gonna stay positive – we’re taking a look at five Hip-Hop albums from the first half of 2017 that I have loved the shit out of.

As always, keep in mind that all of my music commentary is based solely on personal taste; I’m not trying to tell you that these albums are better than other albums, I’m just trying to tell you that you’re stupid if you don’t like them. Just kidding.

It’s all just one dude listening to music and talking about why he likes it. Simple as that.

And with a list such as this one, also keep in mind that I’ve spent very different amounts of time with each of these albums – some of them I’ve lived with for months, and some of them are still relatively new to my life – so this list (and by proxy, the omissions from it) is subject to change as the year progresses. Hope you enjoy these picks and here’s to another five months of great Hip-Hop!

5. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music – 2 Chainz

I have never been a 2 Chainz fan. I have never even made it through an entire 2 Chainz project. His over-the-top, in-your-face braggadocio and all-too-familiar song topics have never appealed to me. But, holy shit. I took a chance with this LP, and “pleasantly surprised” is an understatement. This thing is phenomenal. It’s excessive in all the right places (e.g. the completely unnecessary bass boosts on “Riverdale Road”, which make my car feel like a 747), but manages to have a degree of subtlety as well. 2 Chainz is wildly creative with his flows throughout, and manages to make the tracks with the most predictable guest appearances into the album’s shining moments (the contemplative “Realize” with Nicki Minaj, the euphoric “Blue Cheese”, with the Migos). Not to mention, this album contains the most absurd, hilarious line of 2 Chainz’s career thus far; on “Sleep When U Die”, he spits the following gem: “I got a bank account, got anotha bank account, got anotha bank account.” ‘Nuff said.

4. Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross

Right up there with 2 Chainz in the “Jesus Christ, I never expected THIS!” department, Ricky Rozay came through with a surprisingly dope project this time around. Who would’ve thought that it’d be this motherfucker’s NINTH album that finally won me over? But on Rather You Than Me, Ross balances his usual bravado-filled tall tales with some genuine vulnerability and emotional depth. To be clear, this is far from 808s and Heartbreak, but when Ross – who, by the way, has quietly developed into an impressive MC over the years– dips into his psyche from time to time, it makes for a much more well-rounded listen. Plus, from a production standpoint, he assembles a murderer’s row of some of the best instrumentals 2017 has to offer; luxurious cuts like “Santorini Greece” and the jazzy “Game Ain’t Based on Sympathy” are sprinkled alongside traditional trap bangers like “Dead Presidents” and “Summer Seventeen”, as well as more minimalistic moments like the Nas-assisted “Powers That B”. It all makes for a fluid, easily enjoyable, and consistently engaging 62 minutes. Don’t worry, I’m as surprised as you are. Here is a full review.

3. Captain California – Murs

Every year, Tech N9ne’s powerhouse indie label Strange Music comes through with at least one absolute gem (and by the way, it’s never from Tech N9ne himself– the guy is superbly talented but his projects are bloated as fuck. But I digress.) Last year, it was Rittz’s third record Top of the Line, which placed high on my year end list and I couldn’t shut the fuck up about. This year, it’s veteran LA spitter Murs, whose sixth studio album Captain California delivers everything I look for in Hip-Hop on a silver platter. Aside from checking all the boxes from a technical rapping standpoint, what impresses me most about Murs is his range. This album will be downright goofy one minute – as with the laugh-out-loud opening cut “Lemon Juice”, a little ditty centered on Murs and his guest Curtiss King competing for one female’s attention – and it’ll be heartfelt the next, as with the aptly titled “God Bless Kanye West”, or the touching love song “1,000 Suns”. This LP is likely to end up in the “fuck all of you, this is so underrated!” column for me, so don’t be one of the idiots who sleeps on it!

2. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

 You can go here for some extended thoughts on this album, but I’ll sum it up this way: we are witnessing Hip-Hop history with this guy. How many Hip-Hop artists can you think of that came right out of the gate with FOUR EXCELLENT RECORDS?? Please, enlighten me. Outkast? Sure. DMX? Perhaps. Eric B. and Rakim? I guess, but it’s debatable. Point made: it’s a short fucking list. While DAMN. might not be as intricate or conceptual as Lamar’s universally-acclaimed previous LP, To Pimp a Butterfly, what I love about this one is how emotionally raw it is. This is as depressed, anxious, and conflicted as Kendrick has ever sounded, and that’s saying a lot since he’s never exactly branded himself as Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky. But this record is so raw and so real, and I relate to Kendrick on a more visceral level this time around. That, and he has continued to push himself as a wholistic MC, upping the ante with his flows, his versatile vocal inflections, and his increasingly complex rhyme structures.

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

 Aptly titled, this album makes me happy to be alive. Not that it’s a shining beacon of optimism or anything – these songs tackle suicide, pornography addiction, racial inequality, and some of Alis darkest personal struggles – but hearing this man put a Hip-Hop song together is truly remarkable. Brother Ali oozes passion, sincerity and raw emotion out of every last breath of these 61 minutes, and as a listener it’s contagious. You can’t help but be inspired by the uplifting single “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)”, or be moved to tears by the emotional weight of “Dear Black Son” or “Pray For Me”, or be challenged by food-for-thought tracks like “Before They Called you White”. Not to mention, Ant from Atmosphere provides a gorgeous sonic backdrop, and Ali, being simply one of the most gifted rhymers on the planet, knocks all fifteen tracks out of the park. If you haven’t yet, please get the hell off this blog and go listen to this album. Or watch my review. Thank you and have a nice day.

Trivium’s “The Sin and the Sentence” Single

Nearly two years since 2015’s risky, deliberately minimal Silence in the Snow, the most hateable Metal band on the planet is back with LP number eight, and – I can only assume – another polarizing sound.

Silence in the Snow was perhaps Trivium’s sharpest, ballsiest left turn since 2006’s wildly controversial The Crusade, the infamous record that saw vocalist Matt Heafy abandon the heaven-and-hell scream/sing approach that was prevalent at the time for an opportunity to do his best James Hetfield impersonation. Silence of the Snow found the band once again scrapping their signature screamed vocals from the playbook and intentionally writing simpler, more melodic songs as a way to emulate ‘70s and ‘80s greats like Rainbow and Iron Maiden. The experiment had mixed results, but I admired the effort. I always prefer bands try something new.

Fast-forward to August 2017, and we have “The Sin and the Sentence”, the first single from the Floridians’ as-of-yet untitled eighth album. Being the rebellious, mischievous bunch that they are, they decided to put it out on a Tuesday instead of, you know, Friday, the widely designated day of the week to launch new music. So punk rock.

As with pretty much every Trivium release, you can’t compare this new sound to any one record of theirs. While the “The Sin and the Sentence” maintains the emphasis on Heafy’s (increasingly powerful) clean vocals, the music is significantly heavier this time around. New drummer Alex Bent brings an urgent intensity to the track, complete with rapid-fire bursts of double bass and even a few traditional blast beats tossed in for good measure. His relentless athletics in the song’s epic twin-guitar intro give it a bit of an Arch Enemy flavor.

The catchy, groovy chorus finds Heafy in a duet with himself, as he overlaps clean and harsh vocals in a snappy call-and-response. To be honest, this memorable section helps distract from some of the track’s shortcomings; for starters, from a guitar standpoint, many of the musical ideas presented here are blatantly derivative. The pedal tone riff at 3:05 is not only boring but CERTAINLY recycled, as is the similarly generic riff at 5:25 (also, during the latter, why does he feel the need to randomly yell “FUCK!” for no reason?)

The harmonized neo-classical lead riff at 3:37 is also suspect, and adds to my growing suspicion based on recent albums that the band are simply OUT of new solo ideas. Lastly, I gotta take issue with that dumb three-chord palm-muted progression that kicks off the first verse; it makes me feel like I’m listening to a Pop-Punk band.

All things considered, however, “The Sin and the Sentence” is a step in the right direction for the band. I don’t want to speak too soon, but on my first handful of listens, I’d consider this the best Trivium song since 2011. It brings melody and aggression in equal doses, it’s a bit more indulgent and technical, and it re-introduces some exciting elements to the Trivium sound, most notably Alex Bent’s blast beats and some good ol’ Metalcore riffing (if a bit unoriginal). Looking forward to hearing more from Trivium in the coming months!