January 2018 Album Round Up!

Happy Super Bowl Sunday everyone! One of my favorite days of the entire year…

Not because of the game itself, mind you – but because Football finally fucking ends.

I didn’t like the sport when I was eight years old and refusing to drink the peewee football Kool-Aid, and I like it even less now as a grown man who has literally lost touch with friends because I won’t play fantasy football. So once this game comes and goes, it’ll be nice to not have to hear about Tom Brady for the next six months. That being said, I AM looking forward to JT’s halftime performance!

In other news, I just hit 500 subscribers on my YouTube channel which I’m incredibly psyched about! If you’re one of those 500 people, thank you so much! It means the world to me to have your support. And wait ‘til you see what I have in store for the channel this year! I have never been more inspired or motivated.

Music-wise, I’d say 2018 is off to a pretty solid start. Hip-Hop seems to be lagging behind a bit (I’m looking at YOU, Migos), but we’ve still got 11 months for it to catch up. And I’m sure it will. Looking at my ever-expanding “2018 Album Releases” spreadsheet on my desktop, I see zero reason why this year can’t be something special.

Ok, rant over. Here’s everything I’ve been listening to since my New Year’s hangover finally subsided:

Camila – Camila Cabello

 Since she turned Fifth Harmony into Fourth Harmony in 2016 by exiting the group to pursue her solo career, Camila Cabello has been on a seemingly unstoppable trajectory to superstardom. And her chart-topping debut not only confirms her commercial might, but also hints at some genuine artistic potential. The acoustic-driven “Real Friends” is a thoughtful meditation on fame and the superficial relationships that spring from it. By contrast, “In the Dark” explores the dynamics of celebrity romance, and how public figures often struggle to open up in their private lives. Then there’s the rousing dancehall number “She Loves Control”, which brings with it a production assist from Skrillex. And of course, singles “Havana” and “Never Be the Same” are already bonafide hits, and my prediction is that at least two more smashes from this track list will followI was pleasantly surprised by this LP and was really glad I gave it a chance. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Catharsis – Machine Head

 Likely to be one of the most heavily debated Metal records of the entire year, Machine Head’s divisive ninth record is definitely messy. Listening to Catharsis, you’ll get a barrage of questionable lyrics, more than your fair share of guitar riffs that fall flat, and you’ll endure some head-scratching stylistic “adventures”. But Catharsis also reminded me of one of the most important principles I live by as a music fan: NEVER make a snap judgment on anything. ‘Cause once I lived with this album for a few days, I came to find that there was a lot to enjoy on it too, from the anthemic title track to the menacing “Heavy Lies the Crown” to the succinct but powerful “Kaleidoscope”. And I decided that – by a thin margin, mind you – the positives outweigh the negatives with this one. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Dark Horse – Devin Dawson

If I had to pick an album of the month, here it is. Country artist Devin Dawson’s debut release immediately impresses with in its delicate balance of Country and Pop on songs like “I Can’t Trust Myself” and the Hot 100 hit “All On Me”. But Dawson also works in rock music (“Prison”), heartland sounds (“Placebo”), and Alternative singer-songwriter-isms (“Symptoms”) into these twang-y arrangements. My favorite thing about the LP, however, is Dawson’s ability to put together super relatable concept-driven lyrics: see his unique break-up song angle on “Secondhand Hurt”, his colorful depiction of a bitter ex on “War Paint”, or the passionate– if socially apathetic – lover who narrates “I Don’t Care Who Sees”. Definitely an artist to watch! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Mania – Fall Out Boy

 Despite the rest of the world leading me to believe this would be the worst thing I would ever hear, Fall Out Boy’s polarizing seventh LP really isn’t that bad. Sure, the opening track and lead single “Young and Menace” is a dud – a clunky, ill-advised EDM attempt. And yes, “Sunshine Riptide” could’ve done without that forced collaboration with Nigerian Reggae artist Burna Boy. But amongst these underwhelming ditties are standouts like “Bishops Knife Trick”, the stadium-ready ballad that closes the album out, as well as the high-energy, ultra-quotable “Last of the Real Ones”, and even the Tropical House experiment that is “Hold Me Tight or Don’t”. So while I wouldn’t necessarily hold this album in high esteem, it’s not an absolute TRAGEDY either – it’s more or less just somewhere in the middle. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Vale – Black Veil Brides

Almost eight years ago now, I checked out Black Veil Brides’ super-hyped debut album We Stitch These Wounds and quickly wrote it off as – at best – Bullet For My Valentine-lite. Then, the band got bigger and bigger and bigger. They notched three straight top ten albums, they were getting booked on major tours supporting the likes of Avenged Sevenfold, Motley Crue, and Slash, and they had apparently changed their sound into something a bit more “Rock-oriented”. So, with album number five here, I decided to give them a chance. And, I regret it. The lyrics – consisting of lines like “shout it from the tallest building”, the usage of the dreaded “fade away” cliche in a handful of songs, and worst of all, a steady stream of filler “woah oh’s” the other 20 percent of the time – are horribly corny. And the music? It’s nothing to write home about. The band oversaturate every song with Avenged Sevenfold-lite guitar harmonies, make every chorus excessively dramatic, and bring only one genuinely heavy riff on the whole LP (“My Vow”). Glad I satisfied my curiosity I suppose, but I’ll pass. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Grimmest Hits – Black Label Society

Yikes. Maybe it’s me….it could very well be me. After all, a lot about my tastes has changed since the last record I dove into from the Zakk Wylde-fronted hard rockers (2010’s Order of the Black). But, man. I found Grimmest Hits to be excruciatingly boring. And ironically, doesn’t BLS have a song called “Bored to Tears” in their back catalogue? Well, they understand how I feel then. The recycled riffs don’t excite me, the vocals often sound uninspired (see verse one of “The Betrayal”), and the muddy mix doesn’t help matters either. Sounds like Zakk and the boys need to tweak their formula the next time around. Or maybe Zakk should just make Book of Shadows III instead. NOT RECOMMENDED

P2 – Dave East

With his acute sense of Golden Age lyricism, strong emphasis on narrative-focused rhymes, and gritty authenticity, Harlem MC Dave East has been one of the up-and-comers in Hip-Hop that I’ve most been rooting for these past couple years. Unfortunately, last year’s PARANOIA: A TRUE STORY project left me slightly disappointed with its lack of focus and a bit of filler. But the good news? P2 is East in tip-top form. Whether he’s paying homage to his inspirations on “What Made Me”, or holding his own in a toe-to-toe bar fest with Lloyd Banks on “Violent”, or telling blood-soaked hood tales in late-90s Nas fashion on “I Found Keisha”, the dude impresses me every step of the way. This is the first great Hip-Hop release I’ve heard in 2018 thus far. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

No Cross No Crown – Corrosion of Conformity

 Take notes, Black Label Society. This is some sludgy, southern-tinged Hard Rock that manages to be dirty, mean, and melodic all at the same time. Reunited with classic-era frontman Pepper Keenan, the band rip through groovy Sabbath-isms like “Luddite” and stomping rockers like “Forgive Me” with remarkable ease. And the moody title cut was also a highlight for me – it added a different flavor to this track list. While it may run a shade too long and not quite match up with early C.o.C. gems like 1994’s Deliverance, No Cross No Crown definitely does the trick. RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Avatar Country – Avatar

Infernal Overdrive – White Wizzard

Ephorize – CupcakKe

Collateral – Phillip Phillips

King Chop 2 – Young Chop

Life of a Dark Rose – Lil’ Skies

Common Ground – Above and Beyond

DON’T LIKE:

Wrong Creatures – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Sign of the Dragonhead – Leaves Eyes

Underworld – Tonight Alive

For My Fans – Fetty Wap

Defy – Of Mice & Men

Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue – Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals

Culture II – Migos

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Things (feat. Camila Cabello)

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

At My Best (feat. Hailee Steinfeld)

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

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

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

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

Let You Go

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

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