RL Grime’s “Stay For It” Single

If for the past few months there was some game show host running around offering $5 million to whoever could name the best EDM song of 2017, I would’ve been shit out of luck had he happened upon me. That was, until this past Friday. If that hypothetical guy came up to me on the street and stuck a camera in my face on Friday or any day since then, ya boy would have somewhere around $2,483,124 of after-tax money sitting in a few well-diversified Vanguard index funds. And maybe a Ferrari or two.

What I’m trying to say here is, this new track from Trap powerhouse RL Grime is fucking awesome.

As I talked about here, Mr. Grime’s “Aurora” single was one of my favorite party songs of 2016…for reasons not too distant from why I love this brand new single “Stay for It”, which features a collaboration with big-time R & B crooner Miguel.

Like “Aurora”, “Stay for It” is structured around two enormous, scintillating drops. I can’t even begin to imagine the hard-hitting, dramatic impact they’re gonna have in the live setting. Jesus fucking Christ.

Unlike “Aurora”, “Stay for It” has one of the biggest singers in the world lending his pipes for the occasion. Miguel’s appearance adds a completely new dimension to what’s already a massive sound. This song, simply put, would NOT be the same without the LA native’s belting high notes right before the drop. It’s kinda like when a rollercoaster stops at the top of a big plunge and everyone screams.

Miguel’s reverbed-out vocals elevate the song through its brief verses and its spellbinding bridge too, the latter of which features this rapid-fire synth line that sounds like it’s headed to outer space and back. This section kicks off a magnificent 50-second build to the final drop – a build that’s executed at a perfect acceleration, with enough frenzied momentum to make the final destination climactic, but avoiding any excessive delay that would make it tantalizing or frustrating.

Interestingly enough, “Stay for It” would’ve been a big deal even if it wasn’t as great as it is. ‘Cause other than Pop-House institutions like David Guetta or Calvin Harris, EDM guest vocals rarely utilize the star power of someone like Miguel. In fact, EDM vocal appearances are often anonymous and uncredited. So to have Miguel singing over a Melodic Trap banger like this one is huge for the genre – hopefully it’ll help bring this style greater exposure and inspire similar partnerships in the future.

According to RL Grime’s YouTube description for this track, him and Miguel started working on it in the back of a tour bus two years ago. Well, I’m glad they took their time, because the payoff was worth it ten fucking times over. PLEASE, do yourself a favor and check this out.

And if you’ve already heard it, go listen to it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Time Low’s “Last Young Renegade”: Four Singles Deep

When I think “ATL”, a few things tend to spring to mind. Trap music is definitely the first thing. The Falcons in ’06 when they had Michael Vick, that’s another one. As is Donald Glover’s outstanding new television series Atlanta – which, it breaks my heart that it won’t be back this year due to Glover’s role as Lando Calrisian in the upcoming Han Solo movie.

But at second glance, ATL is also an acronym for one of the biggest, best, and now – dare I say – seasoned Pop Punk bands, All Time Low.

I grew up a Metalhead, so All Time Low were really the exception to the rule, offering me periodic breaths of fresh, bubbly Pop Punk air in between the bouts of Extreme Metal savagery that were consuming my life. Along with Yellowcard, Jimmy Eat World, New Found Glory, and a few others, All Time Low were my window into a scene that I casually enjoyed but was not a part of.

Surprisingly, this quartet’s adolescent angst has aged gracefully for me, as I routinely find myself running back to favorites like “Stella”, “Six Feet Under the Stars”, and “Break Your Little Heart”. But when it comes to keeping up with their new output, I’ve been relatively tuned out – 2011’s Dirty Work and 2015’s Future Hearts still have yet to find their way to my ears. But as soon as they announced their seventh album Last Young Renegade, I knew it was time to check back in.

The LP drops this Friday, and we’ve already got 40 percent of it at our disposal in the form of four different pre-album singles – let’s see how they stack up as we head into release day!

Last Young Renegade

Rather than warm up the stove and let the water boil for a bit, All Time Low shoot for pure ANTHEM with this opening title track (hey, it worked for Judas Priest on Painkiller, Black Sabbath on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and….yeah sorry, all my off-the-cuff references here are Metal ones). I love the “no bullshit, let’s get into it” approach, and if you ask me, they stuck the landing. There are two key elements to this song’s success: a) the addictive clean guitar part that drives the verses (and later doubles as the song’s piano outro), and b) the way the first 5 syllables of the chorus stab at the listener in unison along with all the instruments – it’s a powerful effect. Can’t get this one out of my head.

Dirty Laundry

You know what this song is? It’s a brilliant fake-out. For the first 2-and-half minutes, it has such a light, unassuming Pop touch to it that you forget you’re listening to All Time Low….and as soon as you forget that, the band explode out of the guitar solo into the climactic final chorus. That shift is so effortlessly executed! I also have to commend this song for sticking to a cohesive theme – the “dirty laundry” metaphor is kept afloat throughout with cheeky lines like “sometimes I trip over your history” or “her closet’s such a mess/filled up with all the skeletons she’s kept”. Loving this one too!

Nice2KnoU

Here we have a tune that reeks of (relatively inoffensive) genericism. The chanting, the peppy dance groove in the chorus that I knew would show up somewhere on this LP….it’s all something I could’ve conjured up in my head before I ever heard it. The band explained that this song is dedicated to fans and supporters who helped them in their early days….which, I never would’ve gotten that from these one-size-fits-all lyrics. It’s a very average song if you ask me.

Life of the Party

The first time I heard this track, I immediately winced in disgust at those glitch-y chipmunk vocals – one of modern Pop production’s most annoyingly overused trends. “Fuck, didn’t we JUST go through this with the new Linkin Park album?,” I thought to myself. But the more I listened, the more I realized this song TOTALLY pulls off the whole “I’m a rich rock star who constantly parties but underneath it all I’m depressed and worn out” type thing. Kind of like “I Took a Pill in Ibiza”, though “Life of the Party” specifically deals with a) alcoholism and excess, and b) the underlying identity crisis as a result of that lifestyle; frontman Alex Gaskarth finds himself staring into the mirror asking himself questions like “what the fuck is the reason now?”, and realizing that “in a sea of strangers, I can’t find me anymore” (the latter lyric is a favorite of mine). I find myself sympathizing with him immensely in what I see as a cautionary tale – the lifestyle he once glorified is beginning to eat him alive.

Having taken a five-year hiatus from new All Time Low albums, these singles are making me really glad I’m popping back in for Last Young Renegade. I’m curious to hear the remaining six songs – is what we’ve heard so far indicative of the rest of the record? Is this just the top layer of mindblowing greatness, or are we hearing the four “good” tracks from an otherwise unexciting snoozefest? And most importantly, what the hell is that Tegan and Sara feature gonna sound like on “Ground Control”? Guess we’ll have to wait and see!

 

 

Crown of Despair Band Launch!

Hey everybody! I’m beyond stoked to announce that my band Crown of Despair has released our debut single, “Terror Firma”!

As many of you may or may not know, in addition to shitting on other people’s music, I also make music of my own for other douchebag bloggers to shit on. Joking aside, I’ve been a musician much longer than I’ve been a blogger, spending most of my teenage years holed up in my bedroom practicing the same five shred licks for hours on end while everyone else had, like, friends and shit. This whole “listening to music more than playing it” thing has only happened to me in the past two years as a result of this blog and its accompanying YouTube channel – and believe me, I couldn’t be more grateful that I’ve discovered this obsessive passion of mine – but it’s been really exciting to get back to playing again.

Crown of Despair’s music is probably best described as “Blackened Death Metal” – the many unreleased songs in our vault always come down to a perpetual tug-of-war between old school Black Metal depravity and the riffs and melodies found in Melodic Death Metal.

“Terror Firma” – one of two tracks we recorded in April with Joe Cocchi from Within the Ruins – is like Black Metal-meets-Death Metal-meets-Lamb-of-God…it was the kind of song where you head into the studio with one vision and start cracking up at the unexpected direction that it heads as you track it. We thought this one was gonna be a full on Black Metal rager, but a bunch of the riffs took some New Wave of American Heavy Metal-type turns, and our singer Marc came in with some bellowing lows that brought in a Death Metal feel.

In case you’re curious about my specific contribution to this song: that abrupt transition into the reverb’d-out piano part? That’s me. That goofy Tom-Morello-turned-shred guitar solo? That’s also me. And the outro riff actually came out of some improvising I did in the studio. But it was one of those perfect recording sessions where everybody pulled their equal weight, and we just had a fucking blast hanging in the studio all week with Joe (and we can’t wait to go back this summer!)

If you’re a Metalhead, it would mean the world to me if you gave this track a listen, and threw our band Facebook page a like. If you like what you hear, you can hit up our BandCamp to download it! Believe me, there’s more where this came from! I couldn’t be more excited to embark on this journey with my bandmates. Stay tuned!

April 2017 Album Round Up!

So, another month came and went. The first week of April (right around the time the Chainsmokers released once of the worst albums of the year) kicked off the month in exciting fashion for me – my band hit the studio with Joe Cocchi from Within the Ruins and cranked out a couple killer tunes that I can’t wait to unleash on the world. After that? Well, I worked 50-hour weeks, squeezed out some YouTube videos, and socialized approximately zero times. I’ve currently been sober for 31 days, which is the longest I’ve gone without booze since I first started drinking when I was 15. It’s not an AA type thing – lately I’ve just found myself growing out of that lifestyle.

I’d like to report that laying off the sauce has drastically improved my day-to-day existence and forever altered the course of my life, but I’m pretty sure it’s just made me marginally less cranky and a lot more boring. But I still by no means endorse drinking – after all, have you seen the absolute rape of a markup that bars get away with on Jack and Cokes and other well drinks? Sheesh. Save your money, kids.

There was also the Kendrick Lamar album, which, now that I think of it, formed the nucleus of April 2017 in many ways. My GOD are we witnessing history with that guy. He fucking delivered again.

Anyway, here are my monthly biased-as-all-hell musings on some new music. I gotta say, 2017’s got some serious momentum now –  I couldn’t be more excited heading into May’s stacked release schedule!

Memories…Do Not Open – The Chainsmokers

This is…just, lowest common denominator everything. Lyrically, it has the depth of a sixth grader’s diary – “opener “The One” is SERIOUSLY about not being able to go to a friend’s party, and “Bloodstream” begins with the declaration, “I’ve been drunk three times this week” (not to mention this gem on “Last Day Alive”: “the night is young and we are young”) – and musically, it has the depth of, well, a sixth grader’s diary. The beat to “Break Up Every Night” sounds like a commercial for a Chuck E Cheese, while the drop in “Wake Up Alone” is mind-bogglingly juvenile. In all honesty, I feel like the frat party music/EDM crossover is a wonderful niche (one The Chainsmokers have successfully exploited with songs like “Roses”) but this is, like, teeny bop shit! It’s horribly dumbed down even by Pop standards! NOT RECOMMENDED

All Amerikkkan Bada$$ – Joey Bada$$

While some people may point to the likes of Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole as “ old school Hip-Hop revivalists”, I couldn’t disagree more. When I think of that term in its purest sense, I think of Joey Bada$$ the Brooklyn MC who may have born in 1995, but spits like that’s the current calendar year. Given my affinity for ‘90s Hip-Hop, his debut B4.Da.$$ was one of my favorite Hip-Hop albums of 2015, and its follow-up is even better (and way hookier). Gritty standout “Rockabye Baby” is the epitome of the aforementioned revivalism; anybody from The Lox to Mobb Deep to Nas to Big Pun would sound great on that instrumental (ScHoolboy Q ultimately steals the show with its guest spot). The melodic, almost serene ”For My People”, meanwhile, might be my favorite Hip-Hop track of 2017 thus far. My only gripe with this album is that Joey tackles familiar race issues without having any sort of unique perspective – it’s all the same “cops are out to kill me”, “racism is bad” “government is evil” kind of shit. It’s important shit to talk about, but it needs a new spin. Other than that, the dude is proving to be the real deal. RECOMMENDED

The Search for Everything – John Mayer

After forays into Country and Folk music with his last two LPs, John Mayer’s glorious return to the Pop world is an enjoyable but somewhat fluffy affair. While I dug the hell out of the mushy, relatable romance of “Love on the Weekend”, the wonderful break-up fodder of tracks like “Never on the Day You Leave” and “Moving on and Getting Over”, as well as the crunchy rocker “Helpless”, there were also a few empty, excessively dumbed down cuts like “In the Blood” and “Changing” that made this album underwhelming for me. Knowing Mayer’s talent, I’d prefer to be challenged as a listener. But he still hits his mark more often than not. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

If you want some extended thoughts on this album, it’s best to go here, but I gotta say this: we are witnessing Hip-Hop history here. What many other artist in the history of the genre has come right out of the gate with FOUR INCREDIBLE RECORDS?? Outkast? Maybe. Eric B. and Rakim? Perhaps. But it’s a fucking select few. So when this dropped, I just soaked up the moment. This guy will go down as one of the greats. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Season High – Little Dragon

This Swedish Electronic group’s 5th studio album was my first outing with them. And to be blunt, I didn’t care for the slow-moving, campy, anti-climatic music that I came across. Maybe I just lack the necessary nuance in my taste for dance music, but these songs didn’t have the rousing energy that I look for in the genre. It was more like a goofy video game soundtrack with grating vocals. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Assassination of Julius Caesar – Ulver

Listening back to their classic debut album Bergtatt, I can’t think of a Metal band that has undergone as dramatic a transformation as Ulver over the years. In 2017, over 23 years after that seminal Black Metal release, they’re not even classifiably “Metal” anymore. The Assassination of Julius Caesar dips its toes into dance, a bit of new wave, and a whole lot of moody, nocturnal soundscapes. The spacey, mesmerizing “Southern Gothic” is a favorite of mine, as is the opening track “Nemoralia”, with its smooth electro strut and gorgeous vocals from Kristoffer Rygg. Whatever the fuck the genre is, these guys continue to wow me. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Seven – Talib Kweli & Styles P

These two Hip-Hop veterans came together for seven fun yet thought-provoking tracks that delicately balance a carefree cypher spirit with uncompromising sociopolitical commentary, particularly as it retains to race issues. Here is a full review. You should watch it, given that Talib himself loved it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Coming Home – Falling in Reverse

It makes me chuckle that I spent way more time unpacking this record than I thought I would. ‘Cause to be honest, I went into it with a sorta snobby, scornful dismissiveness, but when early cuts like “I Hate Everyone” and the title track were genuinely catchy, I was shocked. Was this album going to be the ultimate sleeper?? I started to get excited. The answer, though, was a resounding NO as I was introduced to songs like “Superhero” and “Hanging On”, and simultaneously realized that all of these childish lyrics were being sung by a 33-year-old man (in case you didn’t know, Falling in Reverse is fronted by ex-Escape the Fate frontman Ronnie Radke). Plus, I don’t see how the supposed “space theme” ties in except for a few corny Starset-lite studio effects. NOT RECOMMENDED

Madness – All That Remains

In what could be the final nail in the coffin for many of their older fans, All That Remains completed their descent into radio rock mediocrity with this LP. Featuring three of the sappiest, shittiest ballads I have ever heard (“If I’m Honest”, “Far From Home”, and “Back To You”) as well as neutered, passionless production from Howard Benson (who likewise ruined In Flames’ last record), Madness is everything fans have been afraid of as the band has teetered on the edge of Pop-Metal. Personally, since All That Remains has never been a “brutal” band anyway, I’d encourage them to keep going in this direction. If they just drop the ballads and write some better songs next time, maybe this could work out. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

 Makes Me Sick – New Found Glory

These pop-punk pioneers came roaring back with an album that reaffirms their position as one of the very best at the genre they helped usher in. These tunes are just brimming with sugar sweet hooks and carefree, spunky energy. Listening to the sheepish innocence on display during “Short and Sweet” – where frontman Jordan Pundik gushes to his crush, “I don’t deserve someone as beautiful as you” – these guys haven’t aged a bit. The youthful spirit of this record is not forced at all. Special shout out to standout cut “Sound of Two Voices”, which is like….I don’t even know….Tropical-Pop-Dance-Punk? I love it! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Back to the Basics – Rich Homie Quan

Lovely Little Lonely – The Maine

Long Live Nut – YFN Lucci

How Will You Know If You Never Try – COIN

Pure Comedy – Father John Misty

DON’T LIKE:

Extinction – Harlott

Humanz – Gorillaz

Youth – Tinie Tempah

Embodiment – Enterprise Earth

SHINE – Wale

Machine Gun Kelly’s “Bloom”: Four Singles Deep

This Friday, Cleveland’s own Machine Gun Kelly (a.k.a. Richard Colson Baker) will drop his third studio album Bloom. I’m more excited for my first colonoscopy.

It’s been so fucking amusing to watch MGK, a guy who at one point was so anti-industry that it practically defined him – whether it was his independent mixtape come-up or his incessant whining in the press about how “the industry just doesn’t want to see me win” (for examples, watch this, or this, a little more recently, this, or even this)– now thrusting himself shamelessly into the center of it. Like, the Top 40 center of it.

Our first taste of Bloom was “Bad Things”, a duet with Fifth Harmony’s Camila Cabello and a shameless crossover grab with a calculated sexual “edginess”. Not surprisingly, it has since peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Shockingly enough, after being given a few more unsavory samples of what this LP is gonna sound like, I’m no longer bothered by “Bad Things”. ‘Cause these other three singles….holy shit. See, now I have a morbid curiosity about this album ‘cause I need to find out how deep the rabbit hole goes. But at this moment, I’ll just say a few cathartic words about what we’ve already heard.

Bad Things (feat. Camila Cabello)

 Since I can’t escape it, I’ve learned to deal with this one. And I’ll even give it this: the instrumental, courtesy of The Futuristics, is an impressive blend of Pop balladry with subtle Hip-Hop isms like Trap-style snare claps and hi-hats. Camila Cabello’s voice isn’t too bad either, but her generic performance just gives off an any-singer-in-the-world-could-fill-this-slot type vibe. As I alluded to earlier, my main issue with this track is its gimmicky sexual edge. It taps into lust as a commodity but makes no attempt to cleverly explore it. I suppose MGK has a couple lines about nail scratching or whatever, but it all comes off so fucking forced. Listening to this, I also wonder how the hell MGK could feel fulfilled as an MC making such watered-down music.

At My Best (feat. Hailee Steinfeld)

 This is where things really started to worry me. I actually wrote about it here, but I don’t remind repeating myself when it comes to cathartic rants on shitty music. With “At My Best”, MGK plays the role of Worst Motivational Coach in History with cringe-inducing bars like “life is about making mistakes/it’s also about trying to be great” or “this song is for anybody who feels like I did/never the cool kid”. What’s unfortunate is that in his underdog days, even MGK’s corniest inspirational tracks at least came off genuine. But this is so robotic and unimaginative. I’m all for the message here – and if it helps even one depressed teenager feel marginally better, I’m with it – but I’m struggling to see how these vague self-affirmations and trite “life is…” talk are gonna make an impact on anyone.

Trap Paris (feat. Quavo & Ty Dolla $ign)

Ah, the turn up song! Did you know MGK likes to party??? I know, me neither dude, it’s so sick! Maybe one day if I do enough drugs I can be like him!

All kidding aside, this is my favorite of the bunch. The beat bangs, and Quavo from the Migos continues his winning streak with another hot feature. But hearing MGK just go through the motions with that same lifeless triplet flow as every other Trap MC is uninspiring. And the whole “I’m a crazy white boy who does a lot of drugs” schtick is the reason that I stopped listening to his music when I turned 20. I grew out of it.

Let You Go

Perhaps the single worst song I have heard in 2017. Here we get an auto-tuned MGK fronting his own little synthetic Pop-Punk band. I don’t understand – who the fuck are these yes men sitting in the studio with him going, “yeah Richard, this sounds rockin’ man!” There’s no justification for this other than casting a line out to radio listeners who was born in 2005. Which, I’m not gonna lie, it might work. But hopefully not without some deserved backlash.

I’d imagine there are a couple thousand people out there who are hearing these singles, looking at the “Lace Up” tattoos they got when they were 16, and realizing for the first time just how permanent tattoos really are. I can’t say I’ve been a Machine Gun Kelly “fan” past the age of 19, but as a lover of music it hurts to watch this type of artistic deterioration in the name of the almighty dollar. To be clear, I never use the term “sell out”, because as long as the music’s genuine, every artist has the right to chase a hit. But songs like these four? That’s a different story. I guess we’ll see when the full album comes out on Friday, but don’t expect to hear from me. I’ll be looking around for anything but this.

Terror’s “The Walls Will Fall” EP

Calling all you mosh-thirsty punks! West Coast Hardcore stalwarts Terror are back with a brand new EP, The Walls Will Fall; their first new music in nearly two years. It’s five songs, it’s nine minutes, and – as expected – it rips.

This band has been cranking out punishing, sub-30 minute Hardcore releases for the better part of 15 years. They’re remarkably reliable, delivering a healthy mix of New York Hardcore, a bit of Crossover Thrash, and a bit of Metalcore with every biennial LP (2013’s Live by the Code might be my favorite at the moment). And The Walls Will Fall should once again satisfy the Hardcore purists – who from my experience, are even more fickle than those dreaded Metal purists – that flock to this band.

What’s most notable about The Walls Will Fall is its deliberate, even pacing. Opener “Balance the Odds” allows its slow-building intro to segue into urgent Crossover riffing before settling back into a mid-tempo mosh (that final breakdown is so sick – “the freedom of my life – I’ll take it back!!”). The title cut has a similarly smooth sequence, with grinding Thrash rhythms consuming its first half and a simplistic half-time pulse sending off its second half.

My favorite track by far is the closer, “Step to You”, which begins in blistering fashion but morphs into a four-chord, gang vocal-riddled Punk tune that is catchy as hell and could squeeze onto a ‘90s Madball release like you wouldn’t believe (the track “Pride” from Demonstrating My Style springs to mind for me).

Guitarists Martin Stewart and Jordan Posner once again bring an appropriately chunky, mean guitar tone (though I still think the best rhythm tone they’ve achieved was on Live By the Code – it had more of a raw “dryness” to it), and Scott Vogel continues to be a quintessential Hardcore frontman. These five tracks went straight on my gym playlist, and they deserve a spot on yours. Props to Terror for not tampering with a winning formula, and I look forward to the next full-length!

Retrospective Review: Calvin Harris – Motion

Last month I had to face a cold, harsh truth: I’m past my Longboarding prime.

When I was seventeen, I picked up the hobby for like three months and I’m pretty sure I mildly impressed a few people. I even got those fancy Slide Gloves and learned to do a couple of legitimate tricks (I believe one was called a “Coleman”). Before I knew it, every girl in my high school wanted nothing more than to fuck my brains out. Just kidding, no one cared. But in all seriousness, as a lover of learning first and foremost, I had an absolute blast with the whole process – putting in the long hours and watching my rapid growth at this new hobby – just as I had done with guitar before that and sacrificing goats before that or whatever Fox News hosts think Metalheads do in our free time.

But as anybody past the age of eighteen is well aware, getting older means that your many interesting hobbies quickly narrow down to the two-or-three-things-you- kinda-just-do-to-avoid-blowing-your-brains-out-in between-grueling-work-hours. And as much as I love to Longboard – and would recommend it in a heartbeat to anybody I meet – my beautiful Landyatchz board has just been sitting in my garage for years and years.

So I finally pulled the trigger and sold it on Craig’s List for a hundred bucks. I immediately took that hundred bucks (which was paid to me in a single crisp Franklin) and cleaned out the Dance Music section at my local soon-to-be-bankrupt FYE.

One of my purchases was a used copy of Calvin Harris’ wildly successful 2014 album Motion. And when I say the album was “wildly successful”, I mostly mean two songs: “Summer” and “Outside” (the latter of which features Ellie Goulding). Both were utterly inescapable that year, and I have fond memories of being drunk at many a college party while they throbbed in the background.

For the last year or so, my main musical “research project” has been Electronic Dance Music. I’ve been frantically consuming anything even remotely related to that world, from ‘70s Disco to ‘90s Gabber to whatever the fuck Kraftwerk is, working hard to better understand the genre. I’ve been falling in love with it all at an alarming pace, and my goal is to eventually have the necessary background and knowledge to start reviewing it on confidently . But more on that quest later.

So in the midst of this exploration, I figured Motion would be a great case study when it comes to modern EDM crossing over into the Pop mainstream.

Motion was Calvin Harris’ follow-up to his breakthrough 2012 album 18 Months, which featured smashes like “Feel So Close” and high-profile collaborations with the likes of Ne-Yo, Rihanna, Ellie Goulding, and more. And like its predecessor, Motion’s track list takes a star-studded, radio-baiting approach, with only three feature-less tracks out of fifteen, and guests ranging from Gwen Stefani to Alesso to Big Sean to Ellie Goulding. What Calvin Harris did on 18 Months and Motion is a lot like what David Guetta did on Nothing But the Beat and Listen – tighten up house music to fit a compact Pop format, then pass off the hooks to A-listers. It’s a brilliant strategy, one that in retrospect, I’m surprised artists like Tiesto didn’t figure out a decade earlier (but then again, dance music wasn’t yet the full-blown phenomenon it would become).

Unfortunately – winning formula or not – collaborations need chemistry, and some of the collabs on Motion feel so shamelessly “pieced together”. One such instance is the Gwen Stefani-assisted “Together”, which has a lively drop and everything, but also has this cold, calculated-ness to it as Stefani sings some generic lovedrunk lyrics.

Speaking of guest appearances, Motion includes what I now recognize as one of the worst songs in recorded history – “Open Wide”, featuring Big Sean. It’s a complete piece of shit. I’m not sure what I despite about it most, the anti-climatic drop itself, Big Sean’s bars (he rhymes “blouses” with “trousers”), or his obnoxious, trashy refrain asking for…well, you can figure it out from the title. Let’s just say it makes Nickelback’s “Something In Your Mouth” look super fucking classy.

But other than a couple forced duets and a couple low-bro moments (I’d throw the heinous drop in “Overdrive” in the latter category along with “Open Wide”), Motion does deliver on its obvious M.O.. When it comes to lightweight, accessible, party-friendly dance songs, this album totally works. Couple that with the fact that most of its intended audience doesn’t give a shit about full albums (i.e. we can ignore a few duds), and it REALLY works.

Whether its Harris putting together a simple, uplifting tune on his own (“Faith”) or knocking a Swedish House Mafia-style banger out of the park (“Under Control” with Alesso), this is as non-threatening and approachable as dance music gets. It sounds tailor-made to soundtrack summer day drinks and club nights alike, and while it may feel cheap and easy at times, who am I to chastise the man for achieving his goal? Especially with standout tracks like “Outside,” which still launches my brain into a blissful party montage with every listen.

And while I may have been introduced to one of my least favorite songs I’ve ever heard, I also found a new favorite. When I first heard the HAIM-guesting “Pray to God”, my jaw hit the floor. No joke, I’ve listened to that song over fifty times since I got this CD. I am fucking furious with myself for missing the boat on it back when Motion dropped. Not only is the dance beat itself a mind-boggling, irresistible charge of adrenaline, but Danielle Haim’s soaring vocals make me wish she did more guest appearances. And the cherry on top is the uber-melodic guitar part that pops in as Harris hits the brakes for the song’s final 20 seconds. I can tell this one’s gonna stick with me for years to come.

Until I inevitably become an EDM snob somewhere down the line, albums like Motion are totally cool with me. Before writing this review I spent two weeks blasting this CD in my car with the windows down and had – aside from a couple completely intolerable songs – very little complaints. As long as people continue to party and continue to overlook shoddy deep cuts, the Motions of the world will never go out of style. That being said, though I’m sure Calvin Harris could easily keep pumping out albums like this for years to come (and I’ll probably dig a few tracks off of each one), I’m hoping that his latest smash single “Slide”, my second favorite song of the year so far, is a sign of greater things to come.

When contrasted with the material on Motion, “Slide” is so much more mature, multifaceted, and stylistically distinctive. And his two features, Frank Ocean and Migos, could not have been a more organic fit. Though Motion showcased Calvin Harris’ undeniable ear for hits, “Slide” has me psyched to hear this talent of his applied to a more unique, impactful project. ‘Til then, I guess my Longboard money went to good use.

March 2017 Album Round Up!

So, halfway through the month of April, you’re getting my recap of all the music that came out in March. Sick, right?

Though I never try to be particularly timely, this is particularly untimely, and for that I am deeply sorry. Well, I’m not sorry, ‘cause I don’t really care about your feelings, but it does feel like I’m turning in a big paper past its due date or something.

The reason this month’s Round Up is a bit late is because my band spent a week in the studio laying down our debut singles with Joe Cocchi from Within the Ruins. We had such a fucking blast, and I’m beyond psyched to share them with the world in the coming months! I’m so proud of the work we did, and I’m so grateful to Joe being every a band can ask for in a producer. But at the same time, it’s nice to get back to being a “listener”, ya know? As I write this, Kendrick Lamar AND John Mayer have just dropped new albums, and Gorillaz, All That Remains, and more are on their way, so it’s safe to say there will be no shortage of content for my April Round Up! But hey, March wasn’t too shabby either. Here are my thoughts on some of last month’s releases:

Divide – Ed Sheeran

This is gonna sound fucking weird, but bare with me. The only thing Divide has going for it is (ahem) cuteness. No, not Mr. Hipster Ron Weasley himself (though I’m a straight male so how would I know?), but the songs themselves. The only moments I enjoyed on this otherwise pretty bland LP were the charming, cheeky ones, like on “New Man” when Sheeran neurotically jokes about Instagram creeping (“trying not to double tap/I know that’s where the trouble’s at”), or on “Eraser”, where he, I guess, “raps”. There’s also “Galway Girl”, which uses actual Irish instrumentation to a below-deck-Titanic-scene effect. These are the only times I felt truly engaged. Otherwise I’m kind of indifferent. NOT RECOMMENDED

Number 1 Angel – Charli XCX

 Though she has been featured on two of the most annoying chart-toppers in the history of music (Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”), Charli XCX makes fucking outstanding Pop music as a solo artist. Her latest mixtape is my favorite Pop project of 2017 thus far. It DOES occasionally cater to some industry trends – the opening one-two punch is a trap-heavy banger (“Dreamer”) followed by a dancehall-informed number (“3 AM”) – but Charli maintains a spunky swagger that is all her own. The EDM-dominated “Roll With Me” is likely to be a party favorite, while the ballad “Emotional” is lucky to get stuck in your head for days at a time. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Godless Prophets & the Migrant Flora – Darkest Hour

The unsung heroes of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal returned this month with their crowdfunded ninth album, an unquestionable return-to-form following 2014’s polarizing self-titled release, which was a little too “Warped Tour” for the Metalcore quintet’s diehard fans. Prophets sizzles with quintessential Darkest Hour fury, though its strongest cuts (“None of This is the Truth”, “Enter Oblivion”) are the dynamic ones that are able to balance the aggression with quieter passages. Though I didn’t love every track, my longstanding Metal heroes delivered. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Obsidian Arc – Pillorian

Likely to be one of my top Metal albums of the entire year, ex-Agalloch frontman John Haughm’s first release since his legendary band’s breakup is nothing short of extraordinary. Imagine if Agalloch made a record that fused some of their moody, acoustic passages with a straight up, quintessential Black Metal sound. It’s as fucking amazing as you pictured it. Obsidian Arc manages to bring some of Agalloch’s signature strengths to the table while effortlessly capturing every single mood that’s ever been associated with Black Metal: rage, despair, terror, agony, depression, and everything in between – they’re all on this record. I could go on forever about this fucking thing on here, so here is a full review instead. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

More Life – Drake

Aside from the entrancing nightclub melancholy of “Passionfruit”, which was one of my favorite songs of the year so far, and the rousing Kanye collab “Glow”, I don’t have much to say about Drake’s Views follow-up that isn’t “meh”. The guy just hasn’t wowed me in a long time. His musical continues to veer into wallpaper territory, and his petty personality continues to rub me wrong. But just like all of his past projects, the shining moments on More Life give me reason to continue to root for the guy in the hopes that he wows me again. NOT RECOMMENDED

Heartworms – The Shins

On the band’s sixth LP, The Shins continue to be a definitive band for the Alternative genre. But they manage to do it while weaving together a track list that’s anything but one-dimensional. Two of my favorite songs on here are the synth-peppered “Cherry Hearts” and the Alt-heavy, acoustic-driven title track, both of which couldn’t be more different from one another. James Mercer’s ability to stir ingredients from several different corners of Alternative music into one delicious recipe continues to impress me. This is one of his best works. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross

I have never been a fan of Rick Ross. Though he’s had a banger or two on almost every record, I’ve never been able to enjoy his fabricated lyrical narratives and by-the-numbers mainstream Rap sound. So it came as a complete and utter shock when Rather You Than Me was fucking awesome! I still can’t believe how much I’m enjoying this. The production is outstanding, whether it’s the lavish, luxurious sound of tracks like “Santorini Greece” and the saxophone-driven “Game Ain’t Based on Sympathy”, or it’s trap bangers like “Dead Presidents and “Summer Seventeen”, or it’s the more stripped-down, simplistic sounds of the Birdman diss “Idols Become Rivals” or the Nas collab “Powers that Be”. As for the features? They’re out of this world. The aforementioned “Dead Presidents” has possibly the best Future verse I’ve heard since 2011. And Nas, Scrilla, Yo Gotti, Jeezy, Young Thug, and many more ALL add a ton of character to this tracklist. And on some of these songs, Ross even sounds a bit more – hold your breath – HONEST. Like he’s not making everything up this time around. But even if he is, he’s made an excellent record. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Conformicide – Havok

The fourth LP from these Colorado thrashers is nothing short of astonishing. Though the band’s musical foundation is built on the Megadeths and Death Angels of the world, Conformicide spends as much time pushing boundaries as it does worshipping its heroes. It takes Thrash in some proggy territory, some political territory, and punishes listeners with more twisted, mean riffs than they even know what to do with. Not to mention bass wizard Nick Schendzielos, who provides some of the best and most inventive bass playing I’ve ever heard on a Thrash record on highlights like “F.P.C”. See, ann album like Conformicide is precisely why I’ve given (unpopular) mixed reviews of recent efforts from the likes of Metallica, Testament and Overkill – look at how a band like Havok is pushing Thrash as a whole! Younger Thrash bands like Havok and Vektor continue to set the bar for the genre. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Eternity, In Your Arms – Creeper 

Unfortunately, ya boy doesn’t buy into the hype. Creeper’s highly anticipated debut was supposed to turn Pop Punk on its head, but all it did for me was give me a few super catchy emo-tinged jams (namely “Black Rain” and “Hiding With Boys”) and spent the rest of its runtime underwhelming me. But there are definitely times, like on standout track “Poison Pens” where these guys feel like they COULD be worthy successors to AFI. Or, you know, maybe I should stop trying to like music like this. I don’t know. NOT RECOMMENDED

Bloodlust – Body Count

Not only was this fucking thing my Record of the Month, but it was the most pleasant surprise of 2017 so far. Ice-T and Co made a crushing M-E-T-A-L record that I had no idea they were capable of! While still proudly Hip-Hop influenced, Bloodlust is legitimately crushing, especially on the Randy Blythe-assisted “Walk With Me…”, the vengeful “This Is Why We Ride”, the irresistible title track, and the politically-charged “No Lives Matter”. I just can’t believe how good this is…Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

 

LIKE:

Woe to the Vanquished – Warbringer

Captain California – Murs

Hot Thoughts – Spoon

At What Cost – Goldlink

Obituary – Obituary (full review here)

Emperor of Sand – Mastodon

DON’T LIKE:

Look at Yourself – Emmure

Black and White Rainbows – Bush

The Wild – Raekwon

For the Fallen – Memoriam (full review here)

The Great Collapse – Fit For An Autopsy

Tremaine The Album – Trey Songz

 

 

Mastodon’s “Emperor of Sand”: Three Singles Deep

Before we put the first quarter of 2017 in the books, this coming Friday is shaping up to be a hell of a send-off. We’ll be wrapping up the quarter with one of 2017’s biggest blockbuster Metal releases; Mastodon, the critical darlings of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal, the one Metal band other than Deafheaven that hipster Pitchfork readers are allowed to like, is dropping LP number seven.

Emperor of Sand will be the follow-up to 2014’s Once More ‘Round the Sun, a record that found the adventurous band thriving as much within concise songs, simpler structures, and subtle conceptuality as they had thrived with the winding, complex Prog Metal of 2009’s Crack the Skye, the latter which a big chunk of Mastodon’s fans consider to be an apex in the band’s illustrious 17-year career.

We’ve gotten three glimpses into Once More ‘Round the Sun’s successor, in the form of the pre-album singles “Sultan’s Curse”, “Show Yourself”, and “Andromeda”. So far, Emperor of Sand sounds like the logical next step in Mastodon’s discography – these tunes are even more melodic and to-the-point than the ones on their last LP, but they’re still dense; they’re still very musically involved. Of course, these scatterbrained Georgians have never been short on surprises, so I’m not saying jack shit until I get some quality time with the full record. According to drummer Brann Dailor though, Emperor of Sand does have a cohesive theme tying it together, so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.

One more thing: I love how the band only released three pre-album singles. In the age of rapid-fire Internet consumption, the mystique of a new record is precious, and unfortunately, i find it constantly eludes us. To put it in perspective: at this time last year, when I reviewed Killswitch Engage’s Incarnate, half the track list was out before I bought the CD on release day. It didn’t hugely impact my enjoyment of the album, but I like being left to speculate; I won’t REALLY know what Emperor of Sand sounds like until Friday. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sultan’s Curse

The album opener and first official leak, “Sultan’s Curse” boasts an irresistibly groovy main riff and raspy but melodic vocal interplay between Troy Sanders, Brent Hinds, and Brann Dailor, whose chemistry is like a seasoned track squad running a relay race. Dailor’s restless skinsmanship is a crucial factor in this song being as engaging as it is – notice how he anchors the main riff during its first and third tail, but flails during its second and fourth, always keeping listeners on their toes. In general, it’s truly amazing how much is PACKED into these four minutes. This song has so much to it, yet the parts flow seamlessly. The apex for me is the bridge at 1:57, with its slightly psychedelic, Sabbath-esque guitars.

Show Yourself

In a way, this song is the “poppiest” Mastodon have ever sounded. But my God is it fucking catchy. During the verses, Brann Dailor’s vocal harmonies are airtight, and the guitars are almost danceable. It makes perfect sense that this one got the video treatment. I will reiterate for the thousandth time: Mastodon’s three-singer thing cannot be overstated – it keeps every second of this track feeling dynamic and fresh. And although I love seeing Mastodon get proggy and weird, the compact structure here is key in this song’s success – get in, get out, no bells and whistles. Prog-heads can cry a bucket of tears.

Andromeda

This track’s incredibly ugly main riff and its loudly mixed accompanying bassline kind of reminds me of Gorguts. It’s certainly a nice contrast to the sugar sweetness of “Show Yourself”. Things also get a bit eerie in the chorus with some harmonic minor guitar leads and Dailor and Sanders’ ghostly vocals. I also enjoy hearing that psychedelic guitar tone from “Sultan’s Curse” make another appearance, and I thought the guitar solo, with its quirky phrasing, was an excellent addition. Another great track with another different flavor. I am so fucking psyched for Friday!

 

St. Patty’s Day Track Round Up

So last Friday was St. Patty’s Day. For me, it was just another Friday – some new music came out, I listened to it, I went to work, I came home, neglected my social obligations, and listened to obscure Metal albums that nobody gives a fuck about. But for some other geniuses out there, local drinking establishments got a nice payday off their desperate need for an “excuse” or an “occasion” to be alcoholics. Look, if you want to get fucked up and escape from your miserable existence for a while, be my guest. But don’t pretend like this is a fucking legitimate holiday. Even if you’re Irish.

Ok, Part 1/1,000,000 of my St. Patty’s Day Rant over. Now, here are my thoughts on some of the biggest tracks released on the most pointless “holiday” of the year.

“At My Best (feat. Hailee Steinfeld)” – Machine Gun Kelly

I swear to God, if I had the cash I’d scramble together a team of the best, Jewiest lawyers I could find and sue Machine Gun Kelly for false advertising. Suffice to say, in this song MGK is not exactly “at his best”. What a fucking bore. Mind-numbingly basic rhyme schemes, dime-a-dozen pasted-in pop hook, hollow self-affirmations….when he delivers cringe-inducing lines like “life is about making mistakes/it’s also about trying to be great” or “this song is for anybody who feels like I did/never the cool kid”….it becomes clear that I would NOT want MGK as my motivational coach. “At My Best” is an incredibly poor excuse for an uplifting, “inspirational song”, something that in the beginning of his career felt genuine but now just feels calculated, robotic, and commodified. NOT RECOMMENDED

“Good Life” – G-Eazy & Kehlani

I gotta say, when placed alongside MGK’s latest lightweight dud, G-Eazy looks like fucking Big Pun here. Joking aside, there’s a bit of surgical rhyming going on here, especially in the second verse when Mr. Eazy sails smoothly through patterns “toast to success/broke and distressed/open my chest/hope for the best”. Even though I’ve always criticized this guy’s music for being bland, generic, and as non-essential as non-essential gets, you HAVE to give him one thing – he comes across incredibly likable. Laid back and easy going, but sincere and hardworking…I’ve never met the guy but this how his personality comes through in his bars. And on this particular track, the stadium-ready hook from Kehlani is totally passable and will probably make for one of the stronger tracks on the Fate of the Furious soundtrack. RECOMMENDED

“Feels Like Summer” – Weezer

Almost a year removed from their excellent return-to-form with the White Album last April, these veteran alt-Rockers are back! And, it’s disappointing. For me, what makes this track a let down is how the crunchy guitars have been replaced by lifeless pop production. It couldn’t get more summer-y than “(Girl We Got a) Good Thing” and “California Kids” anyway, but this track tries to manufacture its way into Warm California Weather Anthem. And it fails. NOT RECOMMENDED

“Battle Symphony” – Linkin Park

So this is single numero dos from Linkin Park’s forthcoming One More Light album. I’ve yet to listen to “Heavy” – all I know is that a lot of people fucking hated it. Well, maybe when I get around to “Heavy” I’ll be the ol’ devil’s advocate, but I’m definitely on the hate bandwagon with “Battle Symphony”. I was shocked when the opening of this track kicked in and there were all these cheesy synths – the song felt like a nightmarish fusion of Imagine Dragons and The Chainsmokers. I suppose the chorus is kind of catchy, but aside from those six notes (Bat-tle Sym-pho-nee-eee), the song is so forgettable. NOT RECOMMENDED

“My Corner (feat. Lil’ Wayne)” – Raekwon

Based on this, I’ll definitely be checking out Raekwon’s new LP The Wild. In the first verse, the Wu-Tang OG makes it perfectly clear that he still murks 80 percent of the new crop of younger MCs. His raspy bars still carry that same weight that they did in the mid-90s, even if the music itself is less vital (Lil Wayne’s appearance is fairly standard, as is the production, which sounds like something Wayne, Rick Ross, Meek Mill, or any G-Unit affiliate would jump on.) Hopefully The Wild will give old school heads something to use those Fire Emojis on, ‘cause I know Drake’s new project sure isn’t! RECOMMENDED

“On the Come Up (feat. Big Sean)” – Mike Will Made-It

Nah. I don’t think Big Sean’s overly hyped-up yelling marries all that well with the operatic vocal sample in the beat. I just always find it funny how Sean delivers his lyrics with this brash, dramatic emphasis as if he’s dropping one mindblowing bar after another. The way his voice inflects on this track, you’d think he’s dropping the verse of the century. But his rhymes are actually REALLY average. I enjoyed some of what he had to say on I Decided, but this one is not doing it for me. NOT RECOMMENDED

“Animal” – Trey Songz

Despite these atrocious lyrics being a laundry list of every corny sexual innuendo on the face of the planet – Trey compares his penis to an anaconda, then a banana, then a boomerang, and then compares the vagina in question to forbidden fruit, a monkey, and SURPRISE, a pussycat – those chromatic guitar chords in the pre-chorus are so fucking sexy. They make everything else tolerable. The raunchy club beat that surrounds them is also hard-hitting and effective. I have to give it to Trey Songz here; depending on America’s tolerance for this kind of filthy sexual content in Pop music (I mean, Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” did squeak through), this could be a hit. RECOMMENDED