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

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!

June 2017 Album Round Up!

Wow, we’re halfway through 2017?! It feels like just yesterday that I was at a Virginia Tech New Year’s party making tasteless school shooter jokes.

What a crazy year 2017 is so far. I’ve probably been the busiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. Psychology says that busier people are happier, but I think the jury’s still out on that! I wouldn’t have it any other way though. The older I get, the more the whole “free time” thing starts to feel toxic to me. We’ve got such finite time to do everything we wanna do, so unless I’m hanging out with friends I always have to be working on something. Even if it’s re-listening to the first three Carcass records for the billionth time trying to rank how much I like them.

By the way, if reading this Round Up just isn’t enough for you, and you need more Panny in your life, you should definitely check out my guest appearance on the Surreal Resolution podcast, where I participated in….well, a June 2017 Album Round Up! (ya boy starts rambling at the 01:24:00 mark).

For real though, this was a fantastic month for new music! If you’re a Metalhead, there was Goatwhore, Dying Fetus, and Iced Earth. If you’re a Hip-Hop head, there was 2 Chainz and Vince Staples. If you like Pop music, Lorde dropped a gem. Pop-Punkers got some new music from All Time Low, indie folk got some Portugal the Man….we’re all sitting pretty right now. So thank you, music industry. You don’t always let me down.

 

 Last Young Renegade – All Time Low

 Having skipped over these Pop-Punkers’ last couple outings, I decided to pop my head back in and check out Last Young Renegade, their seventh album. And while it’s a pretty lightweight, run-of-the-mill Pop-Punk-but-mostly-Pop affair, there are a few exceptional standouts that make it worthwhile, like the hungover rockstar identity crisis of “Life of the Party”, or the Tegan and Sara collab “Ground Control”, one of my favorite songs of the year. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 BEAUTIFUL THUGGER GIRLS – Young Thug

 He may be one of the most polarizing figures in Hip-Hop right now, but regardless of how you feel about him, you can’t deny that Young Thug has been fun to watch. BEAUTIFUL THUGGER GIRLS is the eccentric cross-dressing MC’s much-discussed “singing album”. Although the cover art is ominously reminiscent of Lil’ Wayne’s disastrous “rock album” Rebirth, BEAUTIFUL THUGGER GIRLS is actually awesome! I was shocked that I liked it, but Thugger’s playful experimentation and impressive sense of melody carry these tunes effortlessly. Cut out a few filler tracks, and this would’ve been one of my favorite albums of the year. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED 

Incorruptible – Iced Earth

 On their twelfth studio album, Jon Schaffer and Co. are still churning out quality classic-leaning Metal with an extra Thrashy kick to it. This record can get downright ferocious (“Seven Headed Whore”), but the band can bring it down for some powerful melodic moments as well (“The Veil”). Definitely give this a listen if you’re on the hunt for vintage-sounding Metal with heavier, more modern production. RECOMMENDED

 Wrong One to Fuck With – Dying Fetus

 The first release in five years from these Death Metal titans is as relentless and crushing as the genre gets. My favorite thing about Dying Fetus is how they balance different shades of aggression – this record is super noodl-y and tech-y in spots (check the middle of a song like “Seething with Disdain”, for instance), but it’s also got a ‘90s Death Metal stomp at times (“Panic Amongst the Herd”), it’s got slam parts, and perhaps my favorite Dying Fetus signature, the Hardcore-influenced mosh riffs. One of my favorite Metal albums of the year so far. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Evolve – Imagine Dragons

 Though an improvement on 2015’s Smoke + Mirrors (which I found to be an uninspired dud), Imagine Dragon’s third record still leaves a lot to desired. The choruses are repetitive, the singles (“Believer” and “Thunder”) are unbearably corny, and even though this LP was supposedly born out of a period of emotional turmoil for frontman Dan Reynolds, the heartache doesn’t translate into something I can connect with. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

 Pretty Girls Like Trap Music – 2 Chainz

 “I got a bank account/got anotha bank account/got anotha bank account,” boasts 2 Chainz in the single greatest line of his career. Kidding aside, Pretty Girls Like Trap Music is the unexpected artistic peak of this man’s career. It takes everything the Trap genre strives for – banging beats, swaggering flows, hard-hitting hooks, and a rugged, hyper-masculine aesthetic – and rolls it into one record. I’ve never been a 2 Chainz fan, but he sold me with this one. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Heart Break – Lady Antebellum

 Every month I try to give a couple Country records a chance in the hopes that I’ll be pleasantly surprised. A couple Mondays ago I was mowing my lawn and needed a soundtrack, so I picked this one. To my delight, I enjoyed a lot of what I heard. It’s definitely cut from the same cloth as a lot of the Pop-Country that I’ve been bashing for years, but the male-female vocal interplay adds a little extra, and I’ve found myself hypocritically enjoying simple, hook-heavy cuts like “The Stars” and “Heart Break”. RECOMMENDED

 Return of the Don – Kool G Rap

 At nearly fifty years old, Kool G Rap proves once again on Return of the Don that he is one of the most vicious MCs to ever touch a mic. Though not as narrative-driven as some of his classic ‘90s output like Live and Let Die or Roots of Evil, G Rap still brings his signature brand of ultra-violent technical rhyming over some the of the best beats of his career courtesy of MoSS, who produced the entire thing. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 Hydrograd – Stone Sour

 So frontman Corey Taylor went ON AND ON AND ON in the press about this being a big departure for Stone Sour in that it’s a “straight ahead rock and roll album”. He’s kind of right – parts of this album really fulfill that promise, and others are an awkward mish-mash of Rock and Metal elements. But despite that, and the fact that the track list takes a nosedive in quality towards the end, Hydrograd has enough highs – the anthemic title track, the moody mid-tempo number “The Witness Trees”, the lovely steel-guitar tinged ballad “St. Marie” – to outweigh its lows. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 Boomiverse – Big Boi

 Even though Big Boi is one of my favorite MCs of all time (a while back I TALKED ABOUT how important his first solo album Sir Lucious Left Foot is to me), I had a tough time getting into this one. I got soured early on it by a cringeworthy Adam Levine appearance on “Mic Jack” (for God’s sake, keep this man AWAY from Hip-Hop!) and the album’s lack of strong hooks only gets more apparent from there. Big Boi’s rapping is still on point – great at times, on tracks like “Order of Operations” – but I don’t find any of the songs sticking with me. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Vengeful Ascension – Goatwhore

Woodstock – Portugal. The Man

Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 – Calvin Harris

Unparalleled Universe – Origin

Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples

Melodrama – Lorde

DON’T LIKE:

Hopeless Fountain Kingdom – Halsey

Wolves – Rise Against

Witness – Katy Perry

Grateful – DJ Khaled

 

Stone Sour’s “Hydrograd”: Four Singles Deep

As dictated by the cycle of Corey Taylor – a.k.a. the Great Big Mouth – a new Stone Sour album is upon us.

Step 1: Put out a Slipknot album

Step 2: Write a book

Step 3: Get in a Childish Pissing Match with Another Rockstar Ego in the Press

Step 4: Put out a Stone Sour Album

Step 5: Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Since Mr. Taylor has just recently completed step 3, it’s only fitting that Stone Sour’s sixth album Hydrograd (I’m counting House of Gold & Bones as two separate albums) is dropping this Friday.

And it’s really Stone Sour 2.0 now; Taylor’s Slipknot cohort Jim Root is out, new shredder Christian Martucci is in (he first appeared on Stone Sour’s recent covers EPs Meanwhile in Burbank and Straight Outta Burbank), and apparently the band are reinventing themselves this time around.

Taylor has been hyping this up endlessly (as he does with every single fucking note of music he releases) as a “Rock ‘n’ roll” album of sorts. He has described it in the press as being “tight”, “fast”, “rocking”, “melodic”, “crushing”, and a myriad of other useless adjectives (that last one is especially suspect). But in all seriousness, I was really glad to hear about the band’s change of pace on this LP, ‘cause I think another go ‘round of their Hard Rock/Alt-Metal hybrid would’ve been overkill.

With three days to go, we’re currently four singles deep into Hydrograd’s fifteen-song tracklist. Let’s see how it stacks up so far!

Taipei Person/Allah Tea

Get it??? “Type A Personality”??? Pretty clever eh??? All kidding aside, this is an awesome song. It fuses a chunky Metallica heaviness with a bit of fun ‘80s sleaze. On one hand, the breakdown right after the two-minute mark is pure Ride the Lightning-era ‘Tallica, while carefree lyrics like “running out of road but I’m still doing 75” feel like something off of Appetite for Destruction. When Corey Taylor said in the press that Hydrograd “has everything you want in a rock album”, I can only assume he was talking about “Taipei Person/Allah Tea”.

Song #3

Contrary to what its hipster title might imply, “Song #3” is Stone Sour at their poppiest and most radio friendly. This tune essentially consists of one giant chorus (equipped with layers of guitars and vocal harmonies) and a series of placeholders, whether it’s the super bland palm-muted verses, the anti-climastic guitar solo, or…well, I’ve pretty much covered the whole song. It’s a bit sappy for my taste – it reminds me of a less dynamic “Say You’ll Haunt Me” (Corey Taylor’s love letter to his wife on Stone Sour’s third LP Audio Secrecy). And it leans way too hard on its chorus to carry over four minutes of music.

Fabuless

Yet another cheeky song title. Since its debut back in April, I have spent as much time enjoying this track as I have being confused by it. ‘Cause it sounds like Stone Sour aren’t sure what kind of band they wanna be as they rapidly shift gears from chugging Metal riffs to a Hard Rock chorus to a Groove Metal/Nu Metalish post-chorus (“it’s all downhill from here!”). But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I enjoy all of this song’s individual components, and Taylor’s seething anti-celebrity lyrics remind me of his hilarious, angry tirades as an author. I should mention Christian Martucci’s ripping guitar solo is a high point as well. This is a very strong single!

Mercy

Without question the weakest link of the bunch, “Mercy” is as unmemorable as they come. Part of me wonders if my distaste for this song is just a product of the band’s uninspired live rendition – and maybe the official recording will do it justice – but that’s pretty doubtful. I especially can’t get over that dud of a lyric in the chorus: “going nowhere, now I’m here”. It just rubs me wrong. That, and in the live video when cameraman fails to pan over to Christian Martucci during his solo? A major pet peeve of mine. We’ll see how this one fares in the context of the full record though.

Hydrograd is out Friday, June 30th on Roadrunner Records. You can catch a full, in-depth review on my YouTube channel the following week!

 

 

May 2017 Album Round Up!

Just like that, Summer’s upon us again! Pretty crazy to think that exactly a year ago today, I was writing about Drake and DJ Khaled’s new single “For Free”. Feels like a fucking decade ago.

If I recall, “For Free” ended up being one of summer sixteen’s core club bangers, as I totally WENT OUT ON A LIMB to predict. What a courageous music writer I am.

And a year later here I am, still pumping out these monthly round ups for an audience that’s expanding at a not-so-exponential rate. But the rapid growth that IS surprising me is how much I love doing this. It’s amazing to me that I can spend so much time working on something that generates zero income and have more and more fun doing it as the months go by. I guess that’s why they call it a passion. And I guess that’s why my parents always told me to “get a real job”.

May was an interesting month. It was really light on the Metal, and a good chunk of this year’s worst music (see below) was released as well. But as always, I found a lot to latch onto, and I hope you’ll enjoy some of these albums as much as I did!

Ether – B.o.B.

Still standing by his early work, I’m always hoping that our favorite Pop-Rap Flat-Earther is going to deliver something great. He’s certainly got it in him, as showcased once again on standouts from this album like the drugged-out banger “Xantastic” or the politically-charged “Peace Piece”, the former a collaboration with Young Thug, and the latter with Big K.R.I.T. (did I mention B.o.B. was versatile as hell?). Unfortunately though, Ether falls apart in the second half with a series of bland tracks that range from half-assed club attempts (“4 Lit”, “Tweakin’”) to excessive melodrama (“Big Kids”). Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

After Laughter – Paramore

Wow! These rockers – led by the feisty Hayley Willliams – have given me, without a doubt, the most pleasant surprise of 2017! On After Laughter, the band completely abandon their Pop-Punk/Pop-Rock fusion for a throwback to ‘80s pop. Like, seriously, the beginning of “Rose-Colored Boy” sounds straight out of Beverly Hills Cop or something. The beautiful twist, though, is how the super pessimistic lyrics sit in stark contrast with these peppy instrumentals. There is so much pain and suffering behind this album…that’s what makes it so compelling. I love the message of a song like “Idle Worship”, where Hayley Williams shies away from being put up on a pedestal just because she’s a famous musician. And the stripped-down ballad “26”? That shit makes me cry. If there’s ONE ALBUM you check out from this month, it should be this one! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

All the Beauty in This Whole Life – Brother Ali

This legendary indie rapper returned from five years of radio silence with what is easily one of the best Hip-Hop albums of the entire year. I can’t remember the last time a rapper made me feel such strong emotions. Lead single “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)” is the ultimate uplifting anthem, while autobiographical cuts like “Pray for Me” and “Out of Here” – the former dealing with Ali’s social struggles as a child born with albinism, the latter with the suicides of his father and grandfather – are heartbreaking. Meanwhile, racially-charged moments like “Dear Black Son” and “Before They Called You White” really make you think. He does it all while still delivering intricate rhymes, and doing so over a set of wonderful instrumentals courtesy of Ant from Atmosphere. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Tremendum – Hate

Despite being dogged by comparisons to their Polish counterparts Behemoth for their entire career, this Blackened Death Metal outfit has always walked a delicate line between the two genres that make up their sound. That is, until they decided to throw us for a loop with THIS ALBUM and go completely Black Metal! I’m not sure what was more of a surprise to me…that they made this ballsy shift in their sound this late into their career, or that it went over so well! I love Hate as a (mostly) Black Metal band. There’s still the Death Metal production, there’s still the blast beats that have their origins in Florida instead of Norway or Scandinavia, but the music is a lot more atmospheric and a lot less riff-driven. Tunes like “Sea of Rubble” really have that Bathory MARCH to them! Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Everybody – Logic

Despite being a fan of this Maryland rapper’s debut album Under Pressure, I will continue to point out how overrated he is. Even though I love his positive energy, his zeal for the genre, and his dedication to his craft, people big him up WAY too much. When you listen closely, his rhymes are pretty basic – he just speeds them up to make them sound complex. The opening scheme of this album is religion/prison/cracker/blacker. I don’t know why people think this guy is so good. Not to mention, his flows are borrowed from all his contemporaries. And this LP specifically is by far Logic’s worst. It’s incredibly corny. Just listen to those ad-libs on the anti-suicide song “1-800-273-8255” (“WHO CAN RELATE?? WOO!”), or the hook on the title track. Which, let’s be clear, the title track is not about being “inclusive” as much as it’s just Logic whining about being biracial. Oh, and Logic can’t sing either. He shouldn’t do that. I like a lot of 6ix’s beats on here though! NOT RECOMMENDED

 Bloom – Machine Gun Kelly

This is the worst piece of shit I have heard all year. “Heard” as in taken semi-seriously – I’m sure there are worse albums out there that I wouldn’t ever bother with. Here were my thoughts on the singles….and it got even worse from there. Listening to this white-washed Pop-Rap garbage is something I will regret until my dying day. I couldn’t even muster up the energy to give it a full review on YouTube. I just wanted it out of my life. I guess I’ll leave you with one somewhat constructive criticism: if there’s one hole that REALLY sinks this ship, it’s MGK’s unnecessary forays into singing on tracks like “Go For Broke”, “At My Best”, “Let You Go”, and the horrific country attempt “Rehab”. NOT RECOMMENDED

Poison the Parish – Seether

Believe it or not, this album actually has some pretty cool moments! The mopey Butt Rock thing doesn’t always sit well with me – the beginning of “Against the Wall”, for example makes me cringe…”I WAS BOOORNNN TO FLLLYYY AWAYYY” – but I think Seether nails down their demographic exceptionally well on here. Tracks like “Betray and Degrade” and “Saviours” have a razor sharp hooks, and are great for a semi-mindless listen while you’re driving. Even though I’m not a “fan” per se, having seen this band and gone through their discography, I’d like to say this is a crowning achievement for them. So maybe give it a listen out of curiosity! RECOMMENDED

 From a Room: Volume 1 – Chris Stapleton

In addition to the new offering from the Zac Brown Band, this was another Country album that I dug this month! This is Stapleton’s follow-up to his hugely acclaimed 2015 solo debut Traveller, and I’ve found his music really easy to get into as, well, not exactly a Country aficionado. Highlights include the bluesy “Them Stems”, the outlaw-tinged “Up to No Good Livin’” (LOVE the slide guitar in that one!), and the spare, intimate ballad “Either Way”. RECOMMENDED

One More Light – Linkin Park

God help us. I tried to be open-minded, I swear. Since I’m not a Linkin Park fan at ALL anymore – even their old stuff hasn’t aged well for me – I actually found it quite easy to go into this Pop crossover attempt with an open mind. But as I explain here (to the tune of over 600 views right now, which is a lot for me!), I found most of this material to be incredibly lightweight, surface level, and trend-hopping all over the place. LP took an L with this one. NOT RECOMMENDED

In a World of Fear – Scale the Summit

One of the most popular instrumental Prog Metal acts on the planet, Scale the Summit have continued to flourish since I saw them open up for Between the Buried and Me back in 2010. I’m so pleasantly surprised that things are working out for them, ‘cause I really wasn’t sure if there was a viable market for what they do. But guitar geeks are a passionate bunch, and they’ll likely eat this album up with all of its stop-start, odd-time rhythms, and impossibly intricate interplay. Unfortunately though, I’m not the right audience for it. A song like “Astral Kids”, despite having so much inventive, virtuosic guitar playing, just sounds like a Berklee School of Music jam room to me. Which isn’t inherently a bad thing! It’s just not what I personally gravitate towards (even as a guitar nerd myself). I still need “hooks” of some kind – and Scale the Summit DID have hooks on early favorites like “The Great Plains” – but there’s just not enough memorable parts on this album to keep me coming back to it for more than the “wow, they can play their asses off!” factor. NOT RECOMMENDED

The World Ablaze – God Dethroned

In a month where Metal felt as scarce as STD-free pussy in a whorehouse, these Dutch veterans delivered a solid slab of no-frills Extreme Metal. This records boasts some pretty memorable riffs (exhibit A: the demonic intro to Thrash/Death Metal hybrid “Annihilation Crusade”), it doesn’t try to be too fancy or experimental, and best of all, its production retains a slightly raw but powerful sound. Modern Death Metal has gotten so fucking pristine and robotic sounding that it drives me nuts , so it was refreshing to hear an LP that was still beautifully mixed but had a little humanness, a little UMPH behind it. RECOMMENDED

T-Wayne – T-Pain & Lil’ Wayne

When T-Pain tweeted – completely out of the blue – that he was releasing a bunch of shelved T-Pain/Lil’ Wayne collabos from 2009, the Internet rightfully lost their shit. “These are lost gems from when the two of them were in their prime!” we all said to ourselves. And whether these eight songs would’ve been ill in 2009, we’ll never know, but in 2017, I’m not into it at all. The first unpleasant surprise is that T-Pain raps a bunch on here – his flow on the Willy Wonka-sampling “Listen to Me” is clunky as hell. The second unpleasant surprise is that the wackest bar of Lil’ Wayne’s career was actually recorded in 2009, during his supposed prime. Who knew? But the line “She was like Damn Damn Damn ‘cause I hit her with the wham wham wham” is certainly something special. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

You’re Welcome – Wavves

Neva Left – Snoop Dogg

This Old Dog – Mac DeMarco

Welcome Home – Zac Brown Band

DON’T LIKE:

Crooked Teeth – Papa Roach

Louder Harder Faster – Warrant

Revelation – Oceano

 

 

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!