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

July 2016 Album Round Up!

From a record label perspective, July is one of the worst times of the year to release new music. High schoolers are at camp, Jewish high schoolers are DEFINITELY at camp, college kids are grinding it out at minimum wage jobs to pay off their gargantuan student debt, and everyone else is cashing in on their vacation days. There’s a reason this coming September is STACKED with exciting albums – the industry’s waiting for all these fuckers to get back in their groove and start shelling out cash in search of an escape.

Still, July isn’t the wasteland that the end of December is. For those taking a crack at radio, the enticing pursuit of a summer anthem remains, and for others, summer tours like Warped and Summer Slaughter are in full swing and those merch tables look awfully nice when they’re adorned with brand new albums. In the end, July 2016 actually blessed us with quite a bit in the new music department. Below are my thoughts on nine of the records that came out:

California – Blink-182

This much-anticipated comeback from Pop-Punk’s most celebrated band was the first record I snatched up this month. It didn’t matter that Tom Delonge was gone and replaced by Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio, which would likely water things down. I just had to hear it, and I expected greatness. Well, “greatness” was not quite what I was greeted with. It’s a fairly enjoyable listen, but there’s so little on here that doesn’t already exist in a superior form on Enema of the State, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, or the self-titled record. Still, I will recommend 1) the lovably sappy ballad “Home is Such a Lonely Place”, 2) the mellowed out title track, which is littered with awesome vocal harmonies, and 3) “She’s Out of Her Mind”, which is vintage Blink. Oh, and the chorus in “Los Angeles” is fucking enormous. But other than that, there’s not much here in the way of replay value. NOT RECOMMENDED

Great Is Our Sin – Revocation

Boston, MA’s Revocation won me over in 2011 with their excellent third LP Chaos of Forms – some adventurous, versatile Death Metal that was tech-y at times, Thrash-y at times, and often dipped into Melodic Death Metal territory. Albums four and five (2013’s Revocation and 2014’s Deathless) were less experimental and more generic, but still solid. Great is Our Sin is the happy medium – straightforward and well-executed like its two predecessors, but it does a better job of breaking the monotony when needed. Case in point, the album’s closer and undeniable apex “Cleaving Giants of Ice”, which utilizes a – well, giant – melodramatic chorus in the Insomnium or latter-era Enslaved vein. For something more more technical, check “Crumbling Imperium”. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Summer Songs 2 – Lil’ Yachty

An 18-year-old Atlanta MC and freshly anointed XXL freshman, Lil’ Yachty blew up with his debut mixtape Lil’ Boat back in March. Naturally, I ignored it. But Summers Songs 2 came, and curiosity got the best of me. This is Yachty’s sophomore effort, and one key ingredient is egregiously missing: talent. Listen to him deliver the hook to “Life Goes On”, an otherwise decent song with a bright and bubbly beat. Does he realize how off-time his flow is? Even if he does, purposeful does not equal good. Yachty’s the product of the last decade of rap’s more “ignorant” side, and he may be a weirdo like Young Thug or Lil’ Wayne, but he’s nowhere near the former’s charm or the latter’s cleverness. NOT RECOMMENDED

 

Wildflower – The Avalanches

Sampling savants The Avalanches far surpassed ScHoolboy Q for the honor of most anticipated album of July 2016. We have waited longer for the follow-up to 2000’s Since I Left You than we did for Guns ‘N Roses’ Chinese Democracy. But Chinese Democracy was an egomaniacal mess and Wildflower is mind-bending, staggering, awe-inspiring, and every adjective that makes me sound like I’m getting paid off to write this. As with Since I Left You, Wildflower is going to take quite some time to fully process, but it took virtually no time to start enjoying. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Snake Church – Ringworm

Over 25 years into their career, these Cleveland Hardcore vets delivered a ripping eighth LP! Snake Church is a fantastic listen if you’re looking for a Metalcore record that’s truly an audible blend of Metal and Hardcore Punk, and not just a Groove Metal record with a handful of breakdowns. James Bulloch a.k.a. The Human Furnace is as visceral a frontman as ever, and he’s backed by a barrage of (mostly) great riffs. In particular, the track “Shades of Blue” is an uncharacteristically sludgy mid-album highlight that adds another dimension to an oft-monotonous style. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 Blank Face LP – ScHoolboy Q

Q’s follow-up to 2014’s Grammy-nominated breakout project Oxymoron HAD to be worthy of “Top 5 Most Anticipated Hip-Hop Records of 2016” inclusion (perhaps alongside Kanye, Chance, Anderson .Paak, and maybe Kid Cudi because of how hilariously bad Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven was). For me, Blank Face LP turned out to be excruciatingly difficult to review; its stark inconsistencies nearly gave me a brain tumor. There’s pure genius like the jazz-tinged boom bap of “John Muir”, or the g-funk influenced “Neva Change”, a collaboration with R &B and soul singer SZA, but then Q turns around and gives you utter landfill like “Overtime” an insincere swipe at radio, or “That Part”, a dull and predictable club song. Oddly, it’s all neatly divided up into thirds in order of the track list: a disappointing first six tracks, a stellar middle section, and a decent but inconsistent final four songs. Pretty strange. But the heart of the album was banging enough to (mostly) compensate for the record’s egregious misfires. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Retrograde – Crown the Empire

In the five plus years they’ve been active, Crown the Empire have made zero effort to distinguish themselves from their Hot Topic-core contemporaries. But with 2014’s The Resistance: Rise of the Runaways at least they executed the formula admirably. Retrograde, their third full-length, finds them attemping to replicate the success of Bring Me the Horizon’s 2015 commercial powerhouse That’s the Spirit to mixed results. The first half has a couple decent singles like “Hologram” and “Zero”, but even then, these songs are like chugging a bunch of girly cocktails – they’re sweet, sugary, and go down easily at first, but you’re gonna puke them up and have a massive headache eventually. And there’s downright atrocious stuff on here too, like “Signs of Life”, which begs the tired old questions: “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?” Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Poison Red – Nonpoint

YUCK. Granted, Nu Metal and Alternative Metal were before my time so I have no nostalgia to swoop in and rescue this album for me, but STILL…I’m having a hard time understanding how there’s an audience for this in 2016. A flaccid guitar tone, cringeworthy lyrics (“so you wanna be the type of motherfucker that person to person is personally an asshole” is an actual verbatim lyric), and unimaginative riffs are the stuff this record’s made of. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

 

Major Key – DJ Khaled

You can hate on Hip-Hop’s favorite Snapchat goon all you want, but this time around, DJ Khaled actually delivered a solid Pop Rap album! Since a Khaled LP is essentially a singles compilation, that’s how it ought to be judged, and there are more hits than duds on here. “Do You Mind” is one of my favorites. It’s smooth as hell, featuring a sensual piano line and one of the best guest spots Future has ever recorded. And if you’re a fiend for bars, there’s the fiery anthem “Holy Key”, on which Kendrick and Big Sean drop some serious heat, there are entire songs by Nas and J. Cole to munch on, and the track “Don’t Ever Play Yourself” boasts the best verse of the entire album courtesy of Jadakiss (“put me in the Hall of Smack”, anyone?). And the bland stuff, like “Fuck Up the Club”, is fairly inoffensive. RECOMMENDED