Top 15 Favorite Songs: Q1 2020

What’s up guys! First of four of these bad boys for 2020. Can you believe we’re already over 25 percent through the year? I know this COVID shit has put quite a damper on things as of late, but I personally had a fantastic quarter – personally, professionally, and of course, musically!

There’s been ton of great music to get excited about . Hip-Hop in particular is already having a better year than 2019, which was a significantly below average year for the genre, at least from where I was sitting.

Artists discussed in this installment include: Jay Electronica, Pet Shop Boys, Grimes, Joywave & more! And be sure to check out the accompanying Spotify playlist for honorable mentions!

Top 15 Favorite Songs: Q4 2019

What’s up guys! Time for the final 2019 installment of my quarterly Favorite Songs segment, where I pick apart the tracks that have soundtracked my life for the past three months. As I note in the video, this stuff is mostly from October and November, since December was such a ghost town for new music this year! Seriously, unless you wanted to listen to One Direction solo albums or Drake saying the word “ting” over and over again or (God forbid) The Chainsmokers, there wasn’t much for you to check out during the holiday season.

As usual, there is an accompanying Spotify playlist with ten additional honorable mentions, which you can find here. Artists discussed in this one include Cigarettes After Sex, The Weeknd, Yelawolf, Tame Impala and more! Check out the video below and I’ll be back real soon with my Year-End Lists!

September 2019 Album Round Up!

What’s up guys! Another month, another Album Round Up. Below is a quick run-through of all the records I checked out this month:

As I Lay Dying – Shaped By Fire: Seven years and one attempted murder charge later (yep, I went there), Metalcore veterans As I Lay Dying are back in business. And I had a lot to say. Some of my key critiques of this album include whiny, poorly executed clean choruses, copy-and-pasted songwriting for their last few releases, and at least one track that’s just bad across the board. But I (pun intended) WARMED up to this album as time went on, and ended up finding a lot to enjoy. Full review here. RECOMMENDED.

Betraying the Martyrs – Rapture: I’m glad I finally swallowed my pride and gave a true-blue “Verb-the-Noun” band a shot. Sure, I had plenty of critiques for Rapture (the French Deathcore upstarts’ fourth LP to be released on Sumerian Records), but I went in hoping to be pleasantly surprised, and I WAS, mainly by the pure Death Metal fury of the title cut and the “Iron Gates” as well as the formidable two-guitar songwriting on the single “Down”. Full review here. RECOMMENDED

Blink-182 – NINE: All the way back to my formative years, I’ve never been a Blink fan. So why I keep taking their new releases exceedingly seriously (2016’s California being another example) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. As I explain here, I’m always gonna cherry pick a couple of instantly catchy tunes and discard the rest. And that’s what I did here with the ballad “Heaven”, and to a lesser extent cuts like “Black Rain” and “I Really Wish I Hated You”. See you guys in 2022 for another three songs! NOT RECOMMENDED.

Cashmere Cat – Princess Catgirl: Possibly my favorite album I heard all month, Cashmere Cat’s ability to pull so much emotion out of cheesy Kanye-esque chipmunk vocals and glitchy EDM tropes astonished me. Dude, it’s 19 minutes long. Do yourself a favor and go listen to it. It’ll make you feel like you’re in a romantic, utopian video game. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Opeth – In Cauda Venenum: Far and away the worst of the “screamless 2010s” era of these Swedish Prog Metal legends, I found In Cauda Venenum to be dreadfully boring. Songs like “The Garroter” make me feel like I’m trapped for hours on end in the most depressing vintage record store ever, surrounded by rare Pink Floyd vinyls that not even Pink Floyd themselves give a shit about, wondering how the hell the owners can afford their rent. I’m not opposed to “screamless Opeth” – I think it’s fantastic that Mikael Akerfeldt and co. had the balls to drastically change course two decades into their career – but I AM opposed to soullessness. And In Cauda Venenum is egregiously soulless. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Post Malone – Hollywood’s Bleeding: After Postie Boy shocked me (and virtually all music writers) with the excellent Beerbongs & Bentleys last April, I thought to myself “gee, I hope he doesn’t rush-release an overly commercial follow-up”. I guess I forgot to knock on wood. Ironically, Hollywood’s Bleeding boasts excellent singles – the irresistible Young Thug collab “Goodbyes” is perhaps my favorite Top 40 Radio song of all of 2019, and the unexpected shoegaze-y guitars in the “Circles” intro still get me every time – but once you get to deeper cuts like the nursery rhyme chorus of “Myself”, or the failed Weeknd attempt “Allergic”, the LP doesn’t hold up. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Sturgill Simpson – Sound and Fury: Simpon’s brand of Alt-Country is one of the only modern shades of the genre granted full acceptance by the “music writer crowd”, and listening to tracks like the rock-influenced “Remember to Breathe” or the funky synth-infused “A Good Look”, in which Simpson’s hearty twang is the only noticeable “Country” element anywhere in sight, you can see why. But that’s not Simpson’s fault. He continues to be a fearless experimenter and poignant lyricist on album highlights like “Make Art Not Friends”, the aforementioned “A Good Look”, and “All Said and Done”. A must-listen! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Zac Brown Band – The Owl

WOW. This is a (potentially unequivocal) contender for Worst Album of the Year. And “OMW” – in which the band recite a texting acronym and pass it off as a chorus – is an equally fierce contender for Worst Song of the Year. If “OMW” and “Me and the Boys in the Band” are the type of music Zac Brown and Co. want to make, then just go be Florida Georgia Line. Or join Florida Georgia Line and make one giant Pop-Country conglomerate with 32 members. It’s actually MORE offensive to me when they try to “return to their roots” with a late-album cut like “Shoofly Pie” buried in the tracklist. NOT RECOMMENDED.

A FEW MORE:

Enjoyed:

Cult of Luna – A Dawn to Fear

Eclipser – Pathos

Korn – The Nothing

The New Pornographers – In the Morse Code of Brake Lights

Tegan and Sara – Hey, I’m Just Like You

Didn’t Enjoy:

Charli XCX – Charli

JPEGMAFIA – All My Heroes Are Cornballs

Starset – Divisions

Top 10 Mid-Year Albums of 2019: NON-METAL EDITION

What’s up guys! Time for the Yin to the Yang that is my Mid-Year Metal list! Here are all the killer albums from the first half of the year that had nothing to do with Metal. As you’ll see, several of these picks were HUGE (pleasant) surprises for me, and I’m not sure there’s anything more rewarding than giving music a chance that ends up adding incredible value to your life.

Speaking of adding incredible value to your life, I really hope this list turns you on to some awesome stuff you wouldn’t have otherwise checked out. Thanks so much for watching!

February 2018 Album Round Up!

Wow, this month marks two years straight of Album Round Ups on this blog! Twenty four consecutive months of verbal diarrhea for the WordPress Porta Potty. What a milestone. Here is the very first one I ever did. It was totally on a whim at the time.

These Round Ups, as tedious as they can be to put together (hence my predictable procrastination every month), do help discipline me to keep up with the never-ending onslaught of new music that must intimidate even the most prolific blogger. This little ritual guarantees that I listen to about twenty albums a month, which affords me a wonderful array of choices come List Time and also plenty to write about on the RYANPANNYMUSIC EMAIL LIST (Sign up for that shit here! Do it!!)

February may have been a slightly quieter month on the music front, but your favorite narcissist still found plenty to rave/complain about. Below you’ll find all kinds of shit to either dive into or stay away from. Please don’t conflate the two.

Oh, and good luck with your March Madness brackets!

 Effected – Cozz

While the sophomore effort from this J. Cole protégé might have all the fundamentals in place – understated but effective beat selection, carefully crafted rhymes, and standout features from the likes of Curren$y, Kendrick Lamar, and Cole himself – Cozz has a certain dime-a-dozen genericism that I can’t shake. There have to be THOUSANDS of up-and-coming MCs that could make this exact record. Cozz is clearly a well-read student of the Hip-Hop game, but he’s yet to find that X factor that separates him. To be fair, the guy is only 24 years old, so he’s got plenty of time to develop his own identity. ‘Til then, I’ll bump this LP’s highlights (the money-over-bitches anthem “My Love”, the bitter ballad “Bout It”, and the grimy title cut) and wait and see if he delivers next time. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Man Of the Woods – Justin Timberlake

Much like Timberlake’s Halftime performance at the Super Bowl, his fourth solo album isn’t nearly as bad as everyone is saying – it’s just MEH. The LP is not without its moments – the Chris Stapleton collaboration “Say Something” is proving itself as a crossover success, and a great deep cut like “Higher Higher” serves as a reminder of how talented Timberlake is as a vocalist. Unfortunately, these high points are simply too far and in between. Listen to how a bland track like “Flannel” drags on. Or the campy lead single “Filthy”, which is Justin’s cheap attempt at a sex anthem with FutureSex/LoveSounds collaborators Timbaland and Danja. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Little Dark Age – MGMT

 Let’s get this out of the way: this album’s title track is one of the best songs of 2018. Those irresistible synths have kept me coming back on a near daily basis since its relesae. And I’m pleased to say that the band’s fourth record offers more than just a great title track. I thoroughly enjoy the morbidity of “When You Die”, as well as the dreamy “Tslamp”, the unapologetic synth-pop of “One Thing Left to Try”, and “Days That Got Away”, the LP’s lone instrumental. While I find myself cherry picking favorite tracks rather than enjoying it in fluid listens, I wouldn’t be surprised if Little Dark Age pops up on some mid-year album lists. RECOMMENDED

 How To Solve Our Human Problems, pt 3 EP – Belle & Sebastian

I am thoroughly embarrassed to admit that How To Solve Our Human Problems, Pt. 3 is my first experience with Indie-Poppers Belle and Sebastian (over 20 years into their career, may I add). I am astonished at what I’ve been missing. This five-track affair offers healthy doses of sugar-sweet melodies, from the folky “There Is an Everlasting Song” to the estrangement anthem “Too Many Tears”. And to top it all off, the band weave together male and female vocals like Fleetwood Mac in their prime. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Black Panther: The Album – Various Artists

This fucking movie did $786.3 million in its first week. And I’m one of the five people who refused to see it. Superhero movies just aren’t my thing, and I wasn’t gonna force it. But I AM glad I gave this soundtrack a listen. This diverse tracklist brings together bangers like the Mike Will Made-It-produced “King’s Dead” with more daring musical adventures like the weird Techno-Rap of “Opps” and the African-themed “Seasons”. Far from a cohesive listen, fans are likely to cherry pick their favorite moments, but Kendrick Lamar clearly got the right people involved for this high-profile affair. RECOMMENDED

Victory Lap – Nipsey Hussle

 Can you believe that Nipsey Hussle has been in the rap game for over THIRTEEN YEARS and is just finally putting out his debut album? I respect this dude’s work ethic– he’s built quite the buzz over the last decade with a remarkably consistent mixtape run, and if anyone deserves the big commercial full-length treatment, it’s Nipsey. Unfortunately, this LA spitter’s mixtape grind doesn’t completely translate in an album context While the G-Funk-flavored banger “Rap N****s” is one of my favorite Hip-Hop tracks of the year so far, and production-wise the chipmunk soul and juicy basslines behind “Blue Laces 2” are exemplary, there are also several lackluster lyrical moments, like the YG collab “Last Time that I Checc’d” (which was especially heartbreaking given my anticipation of it), as well as “Status Symbol” and “Succa Proof”, both of which are straight filler. But this record’s pure West Coast heart and Nipsey’s endless self-assurance make Victory Lap worth your while overall. RECOMMENDED.

Here Come the Runts – AWOLNATION

Thank you AWOLNATION for keeping Rock music interesting. It’s not gonna progress forward with corny, dreary-eyed “Radio Rock” acts like Three Days Grace continuing to sell out concerts, so it looks like the world of Alternative has to shoulder some of the burden. And Here Come the Runts does its part, albeit with mixed results (see the cringeworthy lyrical tirades of “Cannonball”). But I have to single out “Jealous Buffoon” as the single catchiest song of 2018 so far. Holy shit. Give it a listen! And the sweet Folk-Rock ditty “Handyman” is well worth your time too! RECOMMENDED

Future – Don Diablo

While I’ve enjoyed some of Diablo’s music in the past, this new record is absolute garbage. This thing is chalk full of super lightweight, cookie cutter Pop EDM. The “drops” in songs like “Put It On For Me” sound like this guy is shooting to be Justin Bieber’s backing track on the next endlessly irritating Top 40 hit. I wish he would at least roll back the vocal features a bit, ‘cause there are a bunch of instrumental sections on tracks like “Satellites” and “Reflections” that catch my attention, but sadly, they’re short lived and far and few in between. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Thunderbolt – Saxon

Cura – Keys N Krates

Crooked Shadows – Dashboard Confessional

The Play Don’t Care Who Makes It EP – 2 Chainz

Ultraviolet – 3LAU

Mark of the Necrogram – Necrophobic

 

DON’T LIKE:

Fake Friends – LAXX

Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life – The Wombats

Pop Evil – Pop Evil

Kyoto – Tyga

If There Is Light, It Will Find You – Senses Fail

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

 

 

Sum 41 – 13 Voices Album Review

For the first time in over half a decade, the music industry’s increasingly cluttered calendar of every possible thing imaginable includes brand new music from Sum 41, the Canadian five-piece responsible for ubiquitous punk-y radio smashes like “Fat Lip” and “In Too Deep” in the early 2000s. However, the tunes responsible for this band’s rise to fame – as massive as they may have been and continue to be – feel obsolete and nearly irrelevant here; not only is planet Earth a different place in 2016 than it was back then, but the band are too. Now entering their late 30s, maturation and growth are only natural, and 13 Voices, their sixth full length, is a far cry from the snot-nosed Pop-Punk Sum 41 shelled out a decade and a half ago.

It won’t necessarily be a surprise to anyone has heard their last LP – 2011’s Screaming Bloody Murder, which found the band harnessing a roaring metallic edge – but casual listeners may find themselves a bit shell-shocked. 13 Voices often embraces influences that drift away from Pop Punk and towards the Hard Rock and Metal end of the spectrum. Take “Breaking the Chain” for instance, which features a blistering bridge section with chunky, chugging guitars that break into sugary harmonies – it’s straight out of the Bullet for My Valentine playbook. Or there’s the snarling riffage in the “God Save Us All” bridge – something that could’ve easily been plucked from Zakk Wylde’s unreleased Black Label Society recordings. These short dips into more aggressive territory add a sober earnestness to these otherwise hooky tracks.

Another commendable feature of 13 Voices is the band’s meticulous layering and experimentation with different instruments. The exceptional title track, for instance, finds clean and distorted guitars working side-by-side during the second verse, and later adds a taste of acoustic guitars to the mix. In the aforementioned “Breaking the Chain”, a string section is cleverly used as the main counterpart to frontman Deryck Whibley’s vocals. On the anthemic “There Will Be Blood”, a few subtle piano notes pop into….

Click here to read the full review.

October 2016 Album Round Up!

Back in August I forecasted music release bedlam for the month of October, and boy was I right! Among the albums I heard but didn’t write up here: The Dillinger Escape Plan, Meshuggah, Jimmy Eat World, Darkthrone, and OneRepublic.

Among the albums I didn’t even get to hear yet: Candiria, Red Fang, Wormrot, The Game, Serpentine Dominion, NxWorries, and many, many more!

But I’m sure I’ll have some time to catch up next in the next few weeks – thankfully, the music industry’s about to lightly tap the brakes. But for now, I present to you my musings on what October 2016 had to offer!

The Last Hero – Alter Bridge

2013’s Fortress was Alter Bridge’s magnum opus – it found the band fully integrating a metallic edge into their accessible Hard Rock approach, walking a line only a select few have done successfully (white album Avenged Sevenfold, maybe?).Topping it was going to be next to impossible, but The Last Hero is an excellent follow-up. Once again, anthemic melody is co-existing harmoniously assaultive battering – just listen to “My Champion” and “Island of Fools back-to-back. I also gotta shout out the title track, which is a vast stylistic collage that even brings in some Extreme Metal elements. Aside from two misfires (“Twilight”, “You Will Be Remembered”), Alter Bridge hit another home run. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Stage – Avenged Sevenfold

Out of nowhere, A7X released a bonafide masterpiece that I had no idea they were capable of making. Back in a monstrous way is the wild experimentation that made City of Evil and the White Album so special. The band weaves every mood, every tempo, every groove, and every instrument imaginable into these 70-plus minutes. The dark lyrical concepts running through the LP – dystopia, the dangers of science, the human ego – are as riveting and emotionally potent as anything we’ve heard all year. Not to mention the tear-jerking narration from renowned scientist Neil Degrasse Tyson that closes out the record. An absolutely essential listen. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Hotel EP – Yelawolf

Yelawolf’s surprise EP takes the bluesy Folk Rap of last year’s Love Story LP – a record that was too bloated and self-indulgent for its own good – and marries it with the gritty, speedy, and wildly charismatic bars that made him famous in the first place. It’s the first full project I’ve enjoyed from Yela in several years, and it reignited my interest in what’s next for ol’ Catfish Billy. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Revolution Radio – Green Day

I’m absolutely baffled by how much I’m into this record! I went in with zero expectations, and was pleasantly surprised with a set of high-energy Pop-Punk offerings that made me feel like I’m in middle school again! (That feeling is nearly impossible to come by these days). Other than some poor lyrics (“Youngblood”) and some filler (“Too Dumb to Die”, “Forever Now”), I’m digging Green Day’s latest – the first album of theirs I’ve enjoyed since American Idiot. RECOMMENDED

Two Vines – Empire of the Sun

The Australian Electro duo’s best album yet! Compared with 2013’s Ice on the Dune – an album that has been the soundtrack to so many incredibly fun times for me – Two Vines is less banger-centric and more laid back and unassuming. It’s interesting that this LP came out in late October, because compared to its predecessor, it’s way less Summer-y and more tailored towards chilly late night drives. “ZZZ”, “Way To Go”, and “Before” are my favorite cuts on here. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Serenity of Suffering – Korn

Rolling Stone called this thing “turn-of-the-millenium Korn-by-numbers”, and they’re not wrong. There are zero new ideas on this album. That being said, it’s earning a lot of praise from Metalheads because it’s Korn “returning to form”, per se. And on tracks like “Black is the Soul”, with its dissonant riffage, and lead single “Insane”, with its brooding refrain, that rings true. But its detractors also have a point, especially in the latter half of the LP – you can’t seriously argue that the chorus to “When You’re Not There”, for instance, is anything but a snoozefest. But if you’re looking for an intense, cathartic expulsion of all of your fucked up feelings, or you’re just curious what late-90s Korn would sound like with modern, cleaner production, give this thing a whirl. RECOMMENDED

Joanne – Lady GaGa

 What a colossal fucking disappointment. GaGa dulled her edges, stripped away all the kooky eccentricity, and what’s left is a record with zero personality. Vocally she delivers some great performances, but everything feels so lifeless and uninspired. It’s tough to explain, honestly, ‘cause the songs seem like they should “work”, but when I try and  connect with them, they feel stiff and aloof. I was totally ready to embrace a mature GaGa, but I’m astonished at how much I didn’t like Joanne. Maybe it’ll grow on me, but for now? BLEHHH. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Brotherhood of the Snake – Testament

If you’re on the prowl for 45 minutes of straight Thrash action from one of the Bay Area OGs, Brotherhood of the Snake cannot possibly let you down. But this LP is not nearly as catchy, intricate or dynamic as the band’s 2012 masterpiece Dark Roots of Earth. Not to say it doesn’t perform as advertised – it’s got some ripping thrashers in the vein of their classic records – but it offers nothing beyond that, which left me (ever so slightly) disappointed, especially in comparison with Dark Roots. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Rage & the Machine – Joe Budden 

Even though I dug his last album (2015’s All Love Lost), I was pleasantly surprised to find that Rage & the Machine isn’t another complete mopefest exclusively about breakups, depression, and self-pity (believe me, I love that shit though). On album number six, Joey diversifies things – there’s sample-heavy boom bap, hype trap-influenced shit, and R&B-tinged moments as well, all providing a soundscape for his usual dense rhymes. “Wrong One” is a slapper and a half – ArraabMusik’s beat (he produced basically the whole project) goes SO fucking hard. “Serious” is a menacing duet with Budden’s Slaughterhouse compatriot Joell Ortiz. But there are several misses too – Fabolous’ sing-song flow on “Flex” is terrible enough to drag the entire album down on its own, and “By Law” bores me to tears. As a big Budden fan, I got some great new jams out of this, but I’m still waiting for the hooks, the narrative, the bars, and the beats to all add up into a single classic project. RECOMMENDED

 Three – Phantogram

 Phantogram’s dramatic, occasionally theatrical third LP is their best yet. I especially enjoy how the often bleak lyrics pair equally well with hard-hitting synths, dreamy, shoegaze-y landscapes, and some of the more Hip-Hop based production. But I’m not in love with everything here – namely, the irritating hook on “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” and the plodding “Barking Dog”. Overall, Three is a concise crash course in the many facets of the Phantogram sound, which you can broadly label as “Alternative”, but which gets pretty sophisticated when you try and whittle the versatile duo down to a single subgenre. RECOMMENDED

DC4 – Meek Mill

Zzzz……I usually listen to these albums at least three to five times, but I made it through three songs on this one. Same ol’ same ol’. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Whole of the Law – Anaal Nathrakh

Listening to Anaal Nathrakh’s eclectic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to Extreme Metal is like playing subgenre I Spy. In a matter of seconds, these motherfuckers will cycle through Grindcore, Black Metal, Death Metal, Power Metal, and God knows what else, making for a uniquely exhilarating listening experience. There has yet to be a major misstep in the band’s catalogue, but “The Whole of the Law” might just be their best in a decade. Sure, you can criticize this record for being a bit wonky and over-the-top, but that’s EXACTLY why I love it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Breathe in the Water – Kyng

Kyng’s throwback blend of Hard Rock and Metal continues to work on album number three. You can find Breathe in the Water at a delightful intersection between Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, and Baronness.“Pristine Warning”, “Bipolar Schemes”, and the title track all pack quite the punch in the riff category. I just wish this band would get the fucking attention they deserve! RECOMMENDED

 

 

 

 

September 2016 Album Round Up!

Since I was three years old – to put that in context, since BEFORE the world witnessed Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio bang on the Titanic and her subsequent refusal to share a rather spacious floating door, choosing instead to let him die – this was the first non-Summer month that I have not spent in a classroom. That’s almost 20 years of steady structure tossed out the fucking window. It’s almost surreal, but in the immortal words of Blink-182, “I guess this is growing up.” And growing up meant that in September 2016 I was busier than I have ever been, working and interning for absurd hours, scrambling to find time for quality, in-depth listens of all of these new records, and trying to somehow squeeze out a social life and some gym hours. The whole listening-to-new-music thing worked out reasonably well, although the true release mayhem came RIGHT on September 30th, so I’m still catching my breath. But I’ve got a bunch of great stuff to recommend! Enjoy my ramblings, and hope you’re all looking forward to October as much as I am – it’s gonna be fucking STACKED!

Bad Vibrations – A Day To Remember

This Metalcore/Pop-Punk band’s last effort – 2013’s Common Courtesy – is one of my favorite albums ever. So I didn’t expect Bad Vibrations to meet that high water mark. In the end, I’m walking away feeling positive yet slightly underwhelmed. The first half of this LP is packed with some of ADTR’s best material to date, like “Bullfight”, “Naviety” (showcasing their poppier side), and the title track (showcasing their more aggressive side), but there are a few duds and filler tracks in the latter half (“Turn Off the Radio”, “Forgive and Forget”, “We Got This”) weighing it down. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight – Travis Scott

I was a bit late to the Travis Scott party, so the peculiarly titled Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight is the first time I’m experiencing his new music alongside the rest of the world. Scott’s hugely hyped sophomore full-length is not perfect, but it’s PACKED with bangers, and it’s been my go-to party album for the entire month. Particular highlights include “Coordinate”, “Goosebumps”, “Pick Up the Phone”, and “Through the Late Night”, the latter of which is the best thing Kid Cudi has been involved with in over half a decade. Between Birds and Young Thug’s Jeffery project last month, Hip-Hop is incredibly turnt right now. RECOMMENDED

Winter’s Gate – Insomnium 

I haven’t disliked a single album from these Finnish Melodeath masters, but “Winter’s Gate” is special. It’s a conceptual behemoth that meets the highest of Melodic Death Metal standards without ever getting ahead of itself. Along with Be’Lakor’s excellent Vessels LP this past June, Winter’s Gate proves that this style of Metal is as vital as it ever has been. You might see this one again when the time comes for “Best Albums of 2016” discussions. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Natural Causes – Skylar Grey

For her second album as Skylar Grey, the “Love the Way You Lie” songstress took a bold leap from the cookie cutter Pop of 2013’s Don’t Look Down into something much more spacey and ethereal. I was psyched about the transition and wanted more than anything to be blown away by the whole record, but in reality, I fell in love with a handful of tracks and could take or leave the rest. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Yellowcard – Yellowcard

Even though they’re one of my all-time favorites, Yellowcard’s swansong left me indifferent. There are some flashes of the Yellowcard that I grew up loving, but the track list suffers from what I call “ballad syndrome” – of 11 songs, 5 or 6 of them venture into ballad territory. That’s not ok for a Pop-Punk album, or any album for that matter. These slow cuts aren’t terrible, but it makes for a strange and uneven listen. Rather than going out with a bang or a whimper, Yellowcard went out with a polite wave goodbye. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown

On his fourth project, Danny Brown is once again an utterly singular Hip-Hop artist, from his unmistakable delivery, to his slightly avant-garde production, to his eccentric, drug-riddled storytelling. Don’t be fooled by his abrasive persona though; the guy can rap his ass off. Just check the gritty “Lost” or the star-studded “Really Doe”, the latter of which finds Brown holding his own with heavyweights like Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt. On second thought, scratch that “Really Doe” analysis, ‘cause “heavyweight” now describes Danny Brown too – he’s not only at the top of HIS game, he’s one of the most compelling rappers on the planet right now.

Creatures Watching Over the Dead – Charred Walls of the Damned

 Richard Christy, Steve DiGiorgio, Jason Suecof, and Tim “Ripper” Owens fire up their Metal supergroup again for album number three. This is BY FAR my favorite record of theirs. Hearing Ripper’s soaring, melodic vocals over some legitimately heavy riffs is particularly refreshing – I don’t know about you, but I get tired of the same throat-gurgling screams over everything. I love to hear a singer with old school PIPES, and the ex-Judas Priest frontman really brings it here. The melodies don’t stop at Ripper either – the track “Lies” is sent off with an ultra poppy riff and a sugary guitar solo that sounds like a Pop-Punk band got parachuted into a Metal anthem. Elsewhere, shit can get crushingly heavy (“The Soulless”), technically dazzling (Jason Suecof’s harmonized lead in “Tear Me Down”), and even thoughtful (“My Eyes”).The songs aren’t ALWAYS there, but the mastery these veterans exhibit over the genre is a true joy to listen to. RECOMMENDED

The Altar – Banks

Banks sophomore LP is a noticeable improvement over Goddess, her super hyped but slightly underwhelming debut. Plodding moments like “To the Hilt” and “Poltergeist” hurt the track list in its latter stages, but I’ll be damned if there’s aren’t some bonafide Alt-Pop smashes on here. “Gemini Feed” has proven to be a wise choice for a single, and “Trainwreck” continues in a similar vein. “This Is Not About Us” veers more toward the Electro-Pop route, while “Fuck With Myself” contains explicit Hip-Hop nods – the latter a display of swaggering attitude previously absent in Banks’ music. She’s definitely headed in the right direction; in the future, I’d love to see her further explore the edgier side that she began to tap into with The Altar. RECOMMENDED

The Divine Feminine – Mac Miller

Mac Miller’s best album to date is vulnerable, sensual, and loosely conceptual, dealing almost exclusively with love, sex, relationships, and women. Never an MC who could quite carry a full-length on his own, Mac leans on his talented guests with the perfect amount of weight, whether it’s Anderson .Paak on the fun and upbeat “Dang!”, Ty Dolla $ign on the DJ Dahi-produced “Cinderella” (the LP’s best song by far), Kendrick Lamar on the closer “God Is Fair Sexy Nasty”, or his boo thang Ariana Grande on “My Favorite Part”. I am beyond impressed with Mac’s wholehearted commitment to exploring, developing and delivering something totally different from the rest of his catalogue. Love it or hate it, you’re unlikely to hear another Hip-Hop record quite like this one in 2016. RECOMMENDED

Sorceress – Opeth

It’s a crying shame that I haven’t had the time to give this album the full review treatment, but October’s going to be the busiest fucking month of the year and I don’t want to fall behind. It’s only been out for a week, but here are my two cents: if I want Still Life or Blackwater Park Opeth, I can continue to wear out those fucking records to death. I ENCOURAGE stylistic change, as long as the music is up to par. And Sorceress is easily the best of Opeth’s 2010s output – that dramatic, fan-dividing shift in Mikael’s vocal delivery finally feels at home amongst these proggy yet catchy tunes. At the time of the initial transition on 2011’s Heritage, it felt like career suicide, but Sorceress justifies the creative decisions Opeth have made these past few years. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Schmilco – Wilco

Wilco’s tenth album is delivered with the same modest indie spirit that I’ve associated with them since I first heard AM as a 14-year-old. Schmilco is laid back, chill as fuck, and most importantly, it’s folky without those big cheesy pop hooks vacuuming the life out of it (looking at you, Mumford & Sons, how’s it going?). It didn’t knock my world off its axis or anything, but it’s exactly what I anticipated. Can’t be mad at that. RECOMMENDED

 

Dinosaur Pile-Up – Eleven Eleven Review

Final version of this review available here.

When Kanye West finally unleashed The Life of Pablo to Tidal subscribers after the messiest promotional campaign the music industry has ever seen, fans had a lot of questions. Would the album ever be for sale? Had “Famous” officially reignited the Taylor Swift feud? And why in God’s name is the track list STILL changing? One of the most notable discussion points, however, was centered around a track called “Father Stretch by Hands, Part 2”, which found Kanye’s entire fanbase wondering out loud: “Who the hell is this guy that sounds exactly like Future?”

That guy was New York rapper Desiigner, who would soon top the Billboard singles chart thanks to a comprehensive hijacking of one artist’s musical approach. Unfortunately for the newcomer, being a carbon copy of one of the most ubiquitous modern entertainers has already proven an all-but insurmountable obstacle. Perhaps he could learn a thing or two from British 3-piece Dinosaur Pile-Up, whose third LP Eleven Eleven instead elects to emulate a defunct, critically lauded band from over 20 years ago.

Much of Eleven Eleven is overwhelmingly indebted to Nirvana, with frontman Matt Bigland often adopting Kurt Cobain’s raspy groan and strumming through rhythm guitar parts reminiscent of the Seattle legends’ more aggressive material like “Breed”, “Milk It”, or “Scentless Apprentice”. However, this isn’t to say that Dinosaur Pile-Up have absorbed all of Nirvana’s chaotic charisma– the songs on here that most prominently channel this influence do so with mixed results. Most successful is album standout “Crystalline”, a downtrodden anthem with a golden hook, airtight structure, and a climactic guitar solo. Least successful is “Grim Valentine”, which is like Nevermind fresh out of a processing plant – Bigland and bassist Jim Cratchley blend into each other for a drab, repetitive riff, and Bigland’s vocals are so apathetic that it becomes contagious for the listener. “Grim Valentine” is Dinosaur Pile-Up stepping in Nirvana’s snow boot-sized footprints with Crocs.

While Cobain and Co.’s fingerprints are the most prominent on Eleven Eleven, Dinosaur Pile-Up are not clones. The beefy, overdriven guitars call to mind Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf, as well hints of early Rage Against the Machine in spots, particularly in the opening title cut’s monstrous groove. The band also brings a slight Speed Metal edge to the roaring “Bad Penny”, a late-album shot of adrenaline with a circle pit-friendly bridge section. “Nothing Personal” is another up-tempo banger that would fit right in as the token aggressive song on a Foo Fighters record (e.g. “White Limo” on Wasting Light, “Enough Space” on The Colour and the Shape).

Ultimately, the LP’s most egregious flaws aren’t caused by derivative ideas but simply creative misfires. Particularly challenging are the plodding melodies on “Willow Tree”, the monotonous chugging verses in “Friend of Mine”, and the limp angst of “Anxiety Trip”, on which Bigland delivers elementary lyrics like “I’m different, but I don’t care/I’m awkward….I wonder if I’m loved at all.” On most of these eleven tracks, Bigland’s vague disenchantment grows tedious.

Eleven Eleven is not a record that inspires a strong reaction in either direction, because it operates within narrow musical boundaries and isn’t terribly stimulating or provocative. At its best, it’s a meat-and-potatoes tribute to the revolutionary Alternative Rock of the early ‘90s. At its worst, you just want to pop in a copy of In Utero