December 2017 Album Round Up!

Happy New Year everyone! It’s 2018 and here I am a week and a half into the new year playing catch-up on everything that should’ve been finished before…well, whenever it was I blacked out on the night of the 31st.

The problem is, I was too busy pouring my heart and soul into year-end lists like this one and this one and this one, obsessing over every little detail and second-guessing every single candidate for hours and hours on end, to keep both eyes on the release calendar all December. So I definitely missed a few albums. But I do feel like I managed to hear all the important ones. For instance, it was absolutely CRUCIAL that I set aside enough time for both Eminem AND the Star Wars franchise to disappoint me on the same day (which happened to be my half-birthday, no less). Boy, that was fun.

But whether you’re a reader, a viewer, or just a serial angry commenter, thank you so much for your support in 2017! It means the world to me. I felt like the quality of my content grew exponentially this past year, and my goal for 2018 is to kick this shit up about ten notches! Which, that’ll mostly happen on my YouTube channel, so if you haven’t already, please subscribe and tune in every week!

But as long as I love to write, this blog lives on. And what the fuck is this blog without my monthly keyboard diarrhea about “disappointing new album” this and “corny overused descriptive adjective” that? Exactly. That’s what I thought.

So without further ado, the last Monthly Round Up of 2017!

Revival – Eminem

Annnnnnnd, after over a decade of remarkably inconsistent output, see-sawing constantly between unbearable nadirs and soaring highs, the day has finally arrived. The undeniable WORST release of Eminem’s legendary career. On the 44-year-old rapper’s eighth LP, everything falls apart. The production – whether it’s Rick Rubin’s appallingly lazy sampling of “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” on the song “Remind Me”, or it’s the syrupy Ed Sheeran collab “River” with its hideous Rock-ish bridge – shits the bed. And Eminem’s bars? They kind of shit the bed too, especially when he’s making horrible “shit” puns (“shit on my last chick/she has what my ex lacks”). On Revival, Eminem has so little sense about how to make his virtuosic rhymes sound musical. He’s like a malfunctioning “bar machine” that randomly generates intricate syllable combinations while ignoring the fact that there’s supposed to be “songs” going on here. Quite unfortunate to see one of my heroes take such a late-career nosedive. NOT RECOMMENDED

Kingdoms Disdained – Morbid Angel

 With the bar set impossibly low by the disastrous Industrial attempts on 2011’s Illud Divinum Insanus, these legendary Death Metallers could’ve put out pretty much anything and their fans would’ve gobbled it up, because hey, “at least it’s not that other one”. Enter Kingdoms Disdained, a suffocating, impenetrable, aggressively mediocre pummelfest that was welcomed with rave reviews. Well, from everyone expect me anyway. Even though I dug a couple tracks here and there, I found this LP to be swamped with filler and ultimately brought down by its completely one-dimensional brutality. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Pop 2 – Charli XCX

After my surprising love affair with her Number 1 Angel mixtape back in March, I was hoping for this feisty Brit to bring a second jolt of to the predictable Pop world before the year was up. But unfortunately, while Charli’s slightly brash approach to Pop music is still undeniably cutting edge, the punches didn’t land this time around for me. Whether it’s the flat hook on “Unlock It”, the mind-numbingly repetitive “I Got It”, or the underwhelming electro-tinged snoozefest that is the opener “Backseat” (yes, even with my girl Carly Rae on it!), I just couldn’t vibe with this project. Though I do enjoy the (cleverly titled) closing track “Track 10” and the EDM flair with which it crescendos toward the end, I’m gonna have to go against the overwhelmingly positive grain here and declare this one a no-go. Sawwy. NOT RECOMMENDED

From a Room: Volume 2 – Chris Stapleton

 In terms of raw singing talent, Chris Stapleton is, without any debate, one of the best in the Country business. But on From a Room: Volume 2 – Stapleton’s second release of 2017 – what makes him stand out even more is his range. From the folk-y minimalism of “Drunkard’s Prayer” to the loud Country Rock of “Hard Livin’” to the soulful balladry of “Nobody’s Lonely Tonight”, the man’s versatility makes this 32-minute record feel like 10 minutes that’s over all too soon (cue the easy jokes about my sex life). In a year where I put a ton of effort into acquiring a taste for Country music of all kinds, Chris Stapleton made the kind of songs that required no effort at all. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Pressure – Jeezy

 If you had told me in 2006 that 12 years later, (then “Young”) Jeezy would still be relevant, I would’ve laughed in your face. But here we are, and though Jeezy hasn’t been terribly concerned with evolving his sound, he’s still pumping out the kind of bangers that make me wish I gave this thing a proper review. Exhibit A: the triumphant, bravado-laced “Spyder”, with D. Rich’s hard-hitting production giving the LP an immediate lift. And later on, of course, “American Dream” is a huge moment, given that it finds Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole joining forces on the same beat (Cole in particular kills it), adding even more intrigue to that rumored collaborative project between the two of them. Oh, and there’s also “In a Major Way” where guest Payroll Giovanni is an absolute monster. Sure, Pressure is far from perfect – you’ve got the generic “Floor Seats”, you’ve got straight unjustifiable duds like “This Is It”, and you’ve got bars like “two bitches, double date/diamonds floatin’, levitate” dragging the record down- but Jeezy continues to remind us why we still care about him after a decade and a half.

Virtual Self EP – Virtual Self

As I gushed on this very blog a few months back, our first taste of Porter Robinson’s Virtual Self side project (why he feels compelled to trade in his own MONEY-PRINTING household name for a generic pseudonym here, I have no idea) was nothing short of rapturous. The song in question, “Eon Break”, had everything; it had drops like fireworks, it had these rapturous major key synth melodies vaulting it into the stratosphere…not to mention its explosive climax at the end, featuring frenetic drum programming that felt like a distant cousin of Metal music. Well, I am happy to report that Porter’s debut EP as Virtual Self lives up to the hype generated by its first single. There’s the futuristic Trance adventures of “Ghost Voices”, there’s the twitching glitches of the most unique track on here, “a.i.ngel (Become God)”, and there’s perhaps my personal favorite, the so-sugary-and-blissful-it’s-almost-too-much-but-it’s-actually-beautiful “Key”, the latter of which most adheres to the “Eon Break” blueprint. All reasons to go check this EP out immediately. C’mon, it’s 20 minutes! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

War & Leisure – Miguel

Another capital W for one of the de facto leaders of the R & B genre. While Miguel’s fourth album War & Leisure might’ve reeled me in with the Travis Scott-assisted lead single “Sky Walker” – I wrote about that HERE – it quickly proved to me that it had a lot more to offer. The blissful, tropical-tinged “Pineapple Skies”, the entrancing “Banana Clip”, the jazzy J. Cole collab “Come Through and Chill”…Miguel did it again. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

In Becoming a Ghost – The Faceless

 Kudos to The Faceless for continuing to push the boundaries of what Technical Death Metal can be. After half a decade, they’ve come roaring back with a fourth LP that manages to be their most dynamic yet. I’m still hesitant to call it their “best” – that honor remains with 2008’s genre-defining Planetary Duality – but masterful Metal compositions like the delightfully dissonant “Digging the Grave”, or “Cup of Mephistopheles” with its snake-like riffing, or the head-spinning closer “The Terminal Breath” certainly qualify In Becoming a Ghost as a must-listen. And I should mention it’s all brought together by Ken Bergeron’s raspy vocal performance – he is far and away the best frontman that this band has ever had. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Dedication – Chief Keef

Material Control – Glassjaw

Reflective Pt. 2 EP – Bassnectar

Songs of Experience – U2

Say Less – Roy Woods

DON’T LIKE:

Asking Alexandria – Asking Alexandria

The New Reality – Operation: Mindcrime

Double or Nothing – Big Sean & Metro Boomin’

Wednesday – Chris Webby

 

May 2016 Album Round Up!

Here it is everybody! Below is a recap of ten releases from this past month that I was checking out. I fucking finished college while these albums were dropping…so I’m finally free to allocate more precious brainpower for passions like this! Looking ahead, I’m incredibly psyched for the avalanche of big records dropping this coming month. Stay tuned for reviews, rants, and one of my personal favorite endeavors, mid-year lists!

(PS: I did not include Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool here because I STILL haven’t wrapped my head around it. I’m not going to disingenuously hurry my thoughts in the absence of a firm verdict.)

The Concrete Confessional – Hatebreed

Hatebreed’s seventh album is a solid offering, with crushing modern classics like “A.D.”, “Remember When”, “Seven Enemies”, “Serve Your Masters” and the near-perfect “Something’s Off”. For much of the LP, Jamey Jasta veers away from the typical Hatebreed optimism and dives into some dark and confrontational subject matter, which adds substantial muscle and does wonders for the album’s vicious aesthetic. Unfortunately, there are three or four fillers weighing the track list down. But overall, diehards will be stoked. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Misadventures – Pierce the Veil

I went into this one completely cold. Sure, Pierce the Veil is a name I’ve heard tossed around a fair amount. But I’ve never heard a note of their music. Given that I haven’t loved a post-hardcore record in quite a while, it was time to take a crack at something like Misadventures. And my God am I glad I did. These 11 tracks feature fantastically written hooks and tight, reasonably heterogeneous compositions. It’s an efficient 44 minutes, whether it’s the explosive pop-punk of “Circles”, the thumping midtempo of “Bedless”, or doses of Metal on “Dive In”. A worthy successor to genre benchmarks like AFI’s Sing the Sorrow, yet revitalized for 2016. RECOMMENDED

At Night, Alone. – Mike Posner

This was so fucking frustrating. Not only did Posner have a stellar pop smash on his hands with Seeb’s remix of “I Took a Pill in Ibiza”, but I was 100 percent on board with the concept of At Night, Alone. “Maybe this’ll be another Man on the Moon type album,” I thought to myself gleefully. And the first four tracks suggest that – the subdued version of “Ibiza” is great, with an additional third verse that rounds the song out, and “Be as You Are” is some sweet mother-son bonding. But all that is quickly ruined by the stomping “Silence”, the acapella “Only God Knows”, and the bouncy “Jade”, all of which completely disrupt the mood of the LP. I can barely listen to these songs at all, much less at night alone. Posner is talented, and I still believe in him, but At Night, Alone failed to commit to and execute its theme. NOT RECOMMENDED

Top of the Line – Rittz

“Third time’s the charm,” says Georgia double-time spitter Rittz on the opener to album number three. The standard edition of Top of the Line clocks in at just under 75 minutes, but it’s remarkably consistent despite its lengthy run time. A workhorse, the Strange Music signee and Yelawolf protégé is incredibly meticulous with his bars, making for a rewarding listen for lyricism purists. The LP is often deeply and heartbreakingly personal, addressing fun and bubbly topics like infidelity, drug addiction, and suicide. Rittz isn’t afraid to give the white rapper perspective on racial tension on “Until We Meet Again”, and delivers plenty of jaded rhymes against an industry full of “a bunch of wanna-be Futures”. His execution of his own melodic hooks is also as sharp as ever. People need to wake the fuck up and support awesome Hip-Hop like this. Seriously, shame on Complex for not even reviewing this. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Dangerous Woman – Ariana Grande

In the months since Carly Rae Jepsen released the unexpectedly phenomenal Emotion last August, I’ve been on the hunt for another bubbly Pop album to shamelessly enjoy. I never thought it would come from the somewhat vanilla Ariana Grande, but I’ll take it! Her third LP is full of slick smashes that show just enough teeth. Particularly recommended are the roaring title track, the smooth “Sometimes”, and sensual numbers like “Into You” and “Let Me Love You”. Even Nicki Minaj, who I am not a fan of, delivers an attention-grabbing verse on “Side to Side”. The second half of the LP does peter out slightly, but Dangerous Woman is one of the best Pop releases of 2016 thus far. RECOMMENDED

Terminal Redux – Vektor

If you’re a Thrash guy but you need a little less ‘80s rehashing and a little more forward thinking to keep you interested, this band’s first two records should’ve caught your ears. But Terminal Redux, their third, should fucking floor you. It’s a concept record that’s as intricate and crushing as any Metal release in 2016. I’ve got a feeling this one’s gonna mosey its way into the “album of the year” conversation. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Ripcord – Keith Urban

Bleghhh. First, I’ll give serious kudos to the track “The Fighter”, an awesome duet with Carrie Underwood, and “Wasted Time”, a decent nostalgia trip. And I enjoyed other moments on here. But this watered-down Pop Country stuff takes years off of my life. And even though Ripcord is definitely listenable compared to its contemporaries, Country music needs more Sturgill Simpsons and less Luke Bryans. NOT RECOMMENDED

Trust No One – Devildriver

Let me begin on a positive note. “Daybreak”, “Testimony of Truth”, and “My Night Sky” are kick ass Metal songs. And if I heard this in 2009 (a.k.a. Pray for Villains, a record I dug the shit out of), I might feel differently. But there’s nothing on here that hasn’t already been done by now-defunct bands like As I Lay Dying and Chimaira, and this redundancy leaves me indifferent to Trust No One. Dez Fafara’s lack of range as a vocalist also grows monotonous as the album drones along, and his occasional Nu-Metalish lyricism on songs like the title track and “Above It All” is a turn off as well. Look, don’t get me wrong, Devildriver are a ripping band. And if you’re looking for another balls-out 21st Century American Metal record, give Trust No One a spin. But personally, I feel I have elsewhere to turn. NOT RECOMMENDED

Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper

Man, I was taken aback watching the hype for Chance’s third project reach the level of insanity it did. At this point when he drops music, the Chi-town indie sensation gets the same frenzied response that Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Beyonce get. And only off of two – now three – mixtapes. It’s remarkable. Chance has enjoyed universal acclaim for Coloring Book so I’m not gonna be another blogger shoving it down your throat. Give it a listen and enjoy it at whatever level it speaks to you. Oh, and check out my throwback review of his debut. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Cloud Nine – Kygo

Frequent readers may be aware that I don’t know shit about EDM. But if an album crosses my path, I’ll give it a casual chance. Numerous times I’ve been enamored by what I’ve heard, as with Madeon’s Adventure and Porter Robinson’s Worlds (and stuff like Tiesto’s Elements of Life if we’re reaching back a ways). This Kygo album is NOT one of those times. It might have several decent bangers like “Stole the Show”, “Raging”, and the over-a-year-old “Firestone”, but that’s where its merits abruptly end. Just listen to the giant, cheeseball hook on “Raging”. Or that piece of shit “Happy Birthday”. Borderline offensive. This is by-the-numbers nonsense that makes me wanna head straight for the zoo and leap into the gorilla cage like that dumb little kid did. NOT RECOMMENDED

 

April 2016 Album Round Up!

April 2016 was an insane month in my life. My final run as a college student, I spent my weekends living out of a suitcase and traveling up and down the East coast to visit friends at their respective schools before real life shows up and steps on our dreams. If I ever become a full-blown alcoholic, I will have April 2016 to blame. But in between binges on Jack Daniels, Xanax, and God knows what else, here are some releases that were the soundtrack to my escape (yep, that was an intentional In Flames reference!).

Weezer (The White Album) – Weezer

I couldn’t think of a better set of tunes to kick off the beginning of Spring. I haven’t heard anything from Weezer in over a decade that I’ve wanted to hear again, but the White Album is excellent. It has this light-hearted bounce to it that’s irresistible. It’s also succinct, not letting any of its ten songs slip through the cracks. Whether Nirvana deserves royalties for the “Lithium”-esque “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori” is anyone’s guess, but it’s a hell of an album either way. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Gore – Deftones

Quite possibly my album of the year thus far. I’ve never been a Deftones guy, but Gore converted me. It has layers upon layers so it takes a few listens, but if you allow yourself to go along for the ride, you’re in for something special. Chino Moreno’s vocal performance on choruses like “Phantom Bride”, “Prayers/Triangles”, “Xenon”, and “Hearts/Wires” is breathtaking. I’ve especially beat “Phantom Bride” to death. My God. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Views – Drake

Drizzy’s highly anticipated fourth album fluctuates between mildly underwhelming and utterly cringe-inducing. Views finds the Canadian-born superstar stagnating musically and regressing lyrically. Bars like “got so many chains they call me Chaining Tatum” and “Girl let me rock your body/Justin Timberlake” drag listeners back to 2009 kicking and screaming for the “hashtag rap” era. The crying shame is that the first six tracks are excellent, but things nosedive quickly, save a couple late-album highlights like the Rihanna-assisted “Too Good”. A major letdown. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

You’ll Pay For This – Bear Hands

For Brooklyn, NY’s Bear Hands, album number three was a pivotal one. What an oversaturated market these guys are in. They are based in Brooklyn and they play electronic-infused indie Rock. Gonna go out on a limb and say it’s been known to happen. But You’ll Pay For This, while it doesn’t do much to distinguish itself stylistically, distinguishes itself in terms of quality. It’s simply a cut above its peers. And angst-ridden young adults will feel right at home with its lyrical content. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Layers – Royce da 5’9

In early March, Detroit OG Royce da 5’9 dropped “Tabernacle”, the best Hip-Hop single of 2016 thus far, to promote his sixth solo album Layers. It was intensely personal and deeply moving, with stellar storytelling and grade-A production. The opening track of the LP, it’s followed by a set of cuts that, understandably so, don’t quite measure up to it. A majority are enjoyable, while some, like “America”, “Off”, and “Startercoat”, are on the boring side. It’s thoughtfully sequenced, with Royce’s lady problems woven in and out of typical lyrical flexing. But here’s the thing about Royce that fans should understand by now. If you are in the market (as I am) for old school lyricism and for flows that are more derivative of Nas than Future or Lil’ Wayne, the reliable Nickel Nine will deliver. And if you’re not, move along because there’s nothing here for you. Simple as that. RECOMMENDED

Dust – Tremonti

This is the strangest record of the month for me. NOT musically mind you – it’s actually pretty straightforward Metal-tinged Hard Rock. But given that Dust is simply “part 2” of the same recording sessions that produced last year’s Cauterize – an album I didn’t hate but was pretty lukewarm on – I am SHOCKED at how much better it is! Still trying to wrap my head around that. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Book of Shadows II – Zakk Wylde

20 years after Zakk Wylde’s mellow cult classic Book of Shadows, we’re blessed with part two. Better late than never! Like its predecessor, Book of Shadows II is best enjoyed on an overcast, hungover Sunday or, once October rolls around, a brisk Fall afternoon with some foliage. It’s beautifully gloomy, and Wylde’s gravelly vocals make you momentarily forget that he’s actually from Jersey and not a good ol’ boy belting these tunes out across his cattle farm. And even though he’s unplugged for most of it, he does plug in for RIPPING electric guitar solos on tracks like “Lay Me Down” and “Lost Prayer”. Like Mr. Wylde himself, the track list is a bit bloated, but that’s a minor complaint. RECOMMENDED

Generation Doom – Otep

Otep’s Generation Doom combines the lyrical imagination of Five Finger Death Punch with the corny delivery of In This Moment’s latest dud, sprinkling in some generic Nu Metal-isms for good measure. There are even some painful rapped passages, like in the track “Down”. We get it, Otep. You’re not a fan of conformity. You’re not a fan of the fact that America fights wars. And you appear to be upset about it. But for the love of God, please learn to communicate it in a compelling manner. I suppose Generation Doom is heavy, and I like heavy. But “heavy” is literally all it has going for it. NOT RECOMMENDED

A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson

This is Sturgill Simpson’s third LP and follow-up to the acclaimed Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Like his sophomore triumph before it, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth completely transcends Country (or what has loosely become defined as “country” in the wake of the horrific Pop-Country explosion of the last half-decade plus). Simpson is unbounded in his use of horn sections, string arrangements, and anything in between on highlights like “Breakers Roar”, “Keep It Between the Lines”, and “All Around You”. I do have a gripe with the cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom”: he made it his own, but I’m not sure the hard-hitting, singular sound of Nirvana’s debut should be tampered with in this fashion. Still, I’ve found a lot to enjoy here. I suppose “alt-country” is the categorical term, but what the hell do I know? Country is a genre I casually dip my toes into every now and then. And I’m quite glad I chose to get my feet wet with A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. RECOMMENDED

 

Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood Review

The official edited version of this review is available here.

A Billboard Chart powerhouse, yet the most traditional in its adherence to industry standards of old, Country music has been waiting to be Beyoncé-d. Perhaps the holdout for a Country adaptation of Queen B’s increasingly ubiquitous surprise release tactic was simply a holdout for an artist with enough clout and appropriate timing. Enter Eric Church and Mr. Misunderstood. Without warning, the North Carolina native’s fifth full-length LP arrived in the mailboxes of premium fan club members on the eve of its unannounced November 4th release, which coincided with the 48th annual CMA awards. The follow-up to two consecutive platinum albums in 2011’s Chief and 2014’s The Outsiders, Mr. Misunderstood arrives with a commercial and artistic momentum that transcends any of its promotional methodology, novel for the genre as it may be.

The self-proclaimed “parking lot down-and-outer” has often treated Country, Rock, Blues, and Pop as a stylistic Four Corners monument, with his limbs stretched across their boundaries, defying categorization if it weren’t for his conspicuous twang. Mr. Misunderstood continues in a similar vein, but provides a bit of mediation between Chief and The Outsiders. Just as its ten-song track list eschews any “Drink In My Hand”-type celebration of the boozing everyman, there’s also no eight-minute epic like “Devil, Devil” or straightforward Rock showcase like “That’s Damn Rock & Roll”. Rather, Mr. Misunderstood is a hybrid of its two predecessors.

Musically, the album’s ambitious cuts are the first pair. “Mr. Misunderstood” is slick and effortless in its numerous tempo changes, never allowing rhythmic shifts to distract from the potency of its central message. “Mistress Named Music”, meanwhile, is a complex affair behind its straightforward vocal – layers upon layers of guitars and keyboards make stealthy entrances and exits as the song marches toward an eventual climax, courtesy of a blazing 70’s-inspired guitar solo and some vocal assistance from a belting choir.

After a bit of early experimentation, the LP settles into a logical sampling of Church’s various sonic avenues. “Mixed Drinks About Feelings”, a duet with blues singer Susan Tedeschi, abandons Country almost entirely and thrives in its direct Pop sensibilities. Ever since 2011’s nostalgia-laced “Springsteen” helped him become a worldwide sensation, Church has become synonymous with The Boss, whose influence continues to reveal itself in not-so-subtle ways on the stadium-ready “Knives of New Orleans”, one of Mr. Misunderstood’s energetic peaks. Elsewhere, “Chattanooga Lucy” welcomes funky guitars into the fold, while “Holdin’ My Own” and “Round Here Buzz” both favor a minimalist approach.

Despite its crafty blend of styles, Mr. Misunderstood places a bulk of its weight on lyrical content, a department in which it particularly excels. Church forgoes the topical clichés that have plagued much of mainstream Country in the past half-decade. Absent are accounts of partying, various modes of transportation, or any combination of the two – no buying of boats, drinking on planes, or cruising of any kind. As a wordsmith, Church has become reliable for penning narratives that are as vivid and focused as they are clever. The brilliant title cut pulls double duty as both an inspirational autobiography and an anthem of solidarity for Church’s more alienated listeners. “Kill a Word” executes its motif with careful precision – a crusade against unwelcome members of the English language and the negativity they represent. Meanwhile, album closer “Three Year Old” delivers potentially the most vulnerable moment of Church’s career as it speaks on the joys of fatherhood with a warm affection, bringing the superstar full circle as a narrator. He also continues to sprinkle in the occasional homage to his musical influences, name checking everyone from Stevie Wonder to Elvis Costello to James Brown in both the title cut and the witty double entendre “Record Year”.

At a concise thirty-nine minutes, Mr. Misunderstood engages its full potential without a wasted note. No corner of Church’s musical realm is left untouched, yet the album’s merit as a complete, cohesive statement is never in question. Mr. Misunderstood provides further justification for Church’s stardom – the ability to harness Country, Rock, Blues, and Pop into a singular body of work that is equal parts maturity and digestible fun is an ability unique to Eric Church.