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

 

 

Machine Head’s “Catharsis”: Four Singles Deep

Guys, Machine Head are about to be polarizing again. I couldn’t be more excited.

Since the much-maligned Nu Metal detours that nearly destroyed this band’s career in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Machine Head’s last fifteen years have been nothing but smooth sailing, both critically and commercially – 2003’s Through the Ashes of Empires was the ferocious comeback record that brought them back from the dead, 2007’s The Blackening was labeled a modern Thrash “masterpiece” by well, several pretty important people (e.g. James fucking Hetfield), and 2011’s Unto the Locust and 2014’s Bloodstone & Diamonds were also pretty much unilaterally well received. Well, the buck stops here. Enter the Bay Area titans’ ninth LP, Catharsis.

 It’s not even out yet and everyone’s already up in arms. For God’s sake, Blabbermouth reviewed the record and gave it a 5.5/10. I haven’t read the actual review (because I prefer to read, you know, WRITING…not whatever those hacks on that site try to pass off as music criticism), but on a site that gives everything a 9.5, a 5.5. is like a 0.

So far, the general public has only been made privy to four of the album’s fifteen tracks, and personally, I think the debate is just getting started. Based on what I’m hearing, I still think Catharsis has a chance to be good. I really do. Machine Head are clearly taking some risks, but that’s not inherently a bad thing. It’s too early to tell whether all of this vitriol is justified.

I’m just excited as hell to review this album – I can tell that it’s gonna create a big fissure in the group’s fanbase, and that whole process of watching everybody fight it out and figuring out what side you fall on…well, it doesn’t get any more fun than that. Look out for the full review coming soon to my YouTube channel!

In the meantime, here are my thoughts on the four pre-album singles, in the order they were released:

Beyond the Pale

Released back in mid-November, “Beyond the Pale” was the public’s first taste of Catharsis, and it was immediately greeted with a tidal wave of negativity, particularly regarding the main riff’s striking similarity to the Strapping Young Lad classic, “Love?”. Personally, the whole plagiarism thing actually didn’t phase me – what did bother me was how quickly the riff gets watered down by such incessant repetition (after all, it’s used for the verses AND the chorus). And sadly, that riff is the only memorable aspect of this otherwise underwhelming single. The pre-chorus is sluggish, the dual harmonic guitar solo could’ve been recycled from any of the band’s last four records, and lyrics like “I found my heroes/the freaks and zeroes” are a turn-off as well. Though far from a disaster, “Beyond the Pale” was not a good first look.

Catharsis

Despite feeling like the Internet is constantly looking over my shoulder and shaming me for it, I have been enjoying the fuck out of the title track. Not only is it far and away the best of these four singles, it’s an excellent Machine Head song period. With an inspired vocal performance from Robb Flynn (who seesaws between the heavy and melodic like the seasoned veteran he is), an infectious verse riff, a rousing breakdown, and a future staple for live sing-a-longs (“can you feel my Catharsis?”), this one is a home run. And to be quite frank, for all the talk about Machine Head changing their sound, “Catharsis” does very little to tamper with the band’s formula. This is classic Machine Head. Everyone who says otherwise is buggin’.

Bastards

So “Bastards”, which I recently used to make a larger point about music and politics, might be the most “different” track of Machine Head’s entire career. The divisive anti-Trump lyrics aside, the way this song begins by layering spoken-word vocals, folky acoustic guitars and finger-tapped electric guitars is undeniably unique. And to complicate things further, the tune is based around one of the poppiest chord progressions in all of music – so if it occasionally feels like a Pop song, that’s because it was written like one.

I had no idea how to feel about this little ditty for a solid week, but after about 25 fucking listens, I’ve finally decided that I like it. Sure, I could definitely do without the “no no no no” bridge, and I could do without the good guy/bad guy liberalisms, but the messages that this track ultimately sends – messages of love, inclusivity and optimism in the face of this nation’s uncertain future – are something I can get behind 100 percent. And, let’s be honest, when Flynn sings “don’t let the bastards grind ya down”, I can’t help smile as I think of Lemmy from Motorhead grunting that same refrain on the band’s classic Iron Fist album.

Kaleidoscope

Is the cringe-inducing “get your middle fingers in the air refrain” a tough pill to swallow? Sure. Is the hand clapping that goes along with it even worse? Definitely. But in between the cracks, “Kaleidoscope” does manage to squeeze in some trademark Machine Head riffing – the rhythm guitars bring a walloping Thrash/Groove Metal mixture and even throw in some of their signature “alarm clock” harmonics in the bridge for good measure. I also enjoy how Flynn and Co. are not afraid to add a little grandeur to the song in the form of some tastefully placed key and string parts. Though it’s not without its low points, overall “Kaleidoscope” comes out on top for me.