RL Grime’s “Stay For It” Single

If for the past few months there was some game show host running around offering $5 million to whoever could name the best EDM song of 2017, I would’ve been shit out of luck had he happened upon me. That was, until this past Friday. If that hypothetical guy came up to me on the street and stuck a camera in my face on Friday or any day since then, ya boy would have somewhere around $2,483,124 of after-tax money sitting in a few well-diversified Vanguard index funds. And maybe a Ferrari or two.

What I’m trying to say here is, this new track from Trap powerhouse RL Grime is fucking awesome.

As I talked about here, Mr. Grime’s “Aurora” single was one of my favorite party songs of 2016…for reasons not too distant from why I love this brand new single “Stay for It”, which features a collaboration with big-time R & B crooner Miguel.

Like “Aurora”, “Stay for It” is structured around two enormous, scintillating drops. I can’t even begin to imagine the hard-hitting, dramatic impact they’re gonna have in the live setting. Jesus fucking Christ.

Unlike “Aurora”, “Stay for It” has one of the biggest singers in the world lending his pipes for the occasion. Miguel’s appearance adds a completely new dimension to what’s already a massive sound. This song, simply put, would NOT be the same without the LA native’s belting high notes right before the drop. It’s kinda like when a rollercoaster stops at the top of a big plunge and everyone screams.

Miguel’s reverbed-out vocals elevate the song through its brief verses and its spellbinding bridge too, the latter of which features this rapid-fire synth line that sounds like it’s headed to outer space and back. This section kicks off a magnificent 50-second build to the final drop – a build that’s executed at a perfect acceleration, with enough frenzied momentum to make the final destination climactic, but avoiding any excessive delay that would make it tantalizing or frustrating.

Interestingly enough, “Stay for It” would’ve been a big deal even if it wasn’t as great as it is. ‘Cause other than Pop-House institutions like David Guetta or Calvin Harris, EDM guest vocals rarely utilize the star power of someone like Miguel. In fact, EDM vocal appearances are often anonymous and uncredited. So to have Miguel singing over a Melodic Trap banger like this one is huge for the genre – hopefully it’ll help bring this style greater exposure and inspire similar partnerships in the future.

According to RL Grime’s YouTube description for this track, him and Miguel started working on it in the back of a tour bus two years ago. Well, I’m glad they took their time, because the payoff was worth it ten fucking times over. PLEASE, do yourself a favor and check this out.

And if you’ve already heard it, go listen to it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retrospective Review: Calvin Harris – Motion

Last month I had to face a cold, harsh truth: I’m past my Longboarding prime.

When I was seventeen, I picked up the hobby for like three months and I’m pretty sure I mildly impressed a few people. I even got those fancy Slide Gloves and learned to do a couple of legitimate tricks (I believe one was called a “Coleman”). Before I knew it, every girl in my high school wanted nothing more than to fuck my brains out. Just kidding, no one cared. But in all seriousness, as a lover of learning first and foremost, I had an absolute blast with the whole process – putting in the long hours and watching my rapid growth at this new hobby – just as I had done with guitar before that and sacrificing goats before that or whatever Fox News hosts think Metalheads do in our free time.

But as anybody past the age of eighteen is well aware, getting older means that your many interesting hobbies quickly narrow down to the two-or-three-things-you- kinda-just-do-to-avoid-blowing-your-brains-out-in between-grueling-work-hours. And as much as I love to Longboard – and would recommend it in a heartbeat to anybody I meet – my beautiful Landyatchz board has just been sitting in my garage for years and years.

So I finally pulled the trigger and sold it on Craig’s List for a hundred bucks. I immediately took that hundred bucks (which was paid to me in a single crisp Franklin) and cleaned out the Dance Music section at my local soon-to-be-bankrupt FYE.

One of my purchases was a used copy of Calvin Harris’ wildly successful 2014 album Motion. And when I say the album was “wildly successful”, I mostly mean two songs: “Summer” and “Outside” (the latter of which features Ellie Goulding). Both were utterly inescapable that year, and I have fond memories of being drunk at many a college party while they throbbed in the background.

For the last year or so, my main musical “research project” has been Electronic Dance Music. I’ve been frantically consuming anything even remotely related to that world, from ‘70s Disco to ‘90s Gabber to whatever the fuck Kraftwerk is, working hard to better understand the genre. I’ve been falling in love with it all at an alarming pace, and my goal is to eventually have the necessary background and knowledge to start reviewing it on confidently . But more on that quest later.

So in the midst of this exploration, I figured Motion would be a great case study when it comes to modern EDM crossing over into the Pop mainstream.

Motion was Calvin Harris’ follow-up to his breakthrough 2012 album 18 Months, which featured smashes like “Feel So Close” and high-profile collaborations with the likes of Ne-Yo, Rihanna, Ellie Goulding, and more. And like its predecessor, Motion’s track list takes a star-studded, radio-baiting approach, with only three feature-less tracks out of fifteen, and guests ranging from Gwen Stefani to Alesso to Big Sean to Ellie Goulding. What Calvin Harris did on 18 Months and Motion is a lot like what David Guetta did on Nothing But the Beat and Listen – tighten up house music to fit a compact Pop format, then pass off the hooks to A-listers. It’s a brilliant strategy, one that in retrospect, I’m surprised artists like Tiesto didn’t figure out a decade earlier (but then again, dance music wasn’t yet the full-blown phenomenon it would become).

Unfortunately – winning formula or not – collaborations need chemistry, and some of the collabs on Motion feel so shamelessly “pieced together”. One such instance is the Gwen Stefani-assisted “Together”, which has a lively drop and everything, but also has this cold, calculated-ness to it as Stefani sings some generic lovedrunk lyrics.

Speaking of guest appearances, Motion includes what I now recognize as one of the worst songs in recorded history – “Open Wide”, featuring Big Sean. It’s a complete piece of shit. I’m not sure what I despite about it most, the anti-climatic drop itself, Big Sean’s bars (he rhymes “blouses” with “trousers”), or his obnoxious, trashy refrain asking for…well, you can figure it out from the title. Let’s just say it makes Nickelback’s “Something In Your Mouth” look super fucking classy.

But other than a couple forced duets and a couple low-bro moments (I’d throw the heinous drop in “Overdrive” in the latter category along with “Open Wide”), Motion does deliver on its obvious M.O.. When it comes to lightweight, accessible, party-friendly dance songs, this album totally works. Couple that with the fact that most of its intended audience doesn’t give a shit about full albums (i.e. we can ignore a few duds), and it REALLY works.

Whether its Harris putting together a simple, uplifting tune on his own (“Faith”) or knocking a Swedish House Mafia-style banger out of the park (“Under Control” with Alesso), this is as non-threatening and approachable as dance music gets. It sounds tailor-made to soundtrack summer day drinks and club nights alike, and while it may feel cheap and easy at times, who am I to chastise the man for achieving his goal? Especially with standout tracks like “Outside,” which still launches my brain into a blissful party montage with every listen.

And while I may have been introduced to one of my least favorite songs I’ve ever heard, I also found a new favorite. When I first heard the HAIM-guesting “Pray to God”, my jaw hit the floor. No joke, I’ve listened to that song over fifty times since I got this CD. I am fucking furious with myself for missing the boat on it back when Motion dropped. Not only is the dance beat itself a mind-boggling, irresistible charge of adrenaline, but Danielle Haim’s soaring vocals make me wish she did more guest appearances. And the cherry on top is the uber-melodic guitar part that pops in as Harris hits the brakes for the song’s final 20 seconds. I can tell this one’s gonna stick with me for years to come.

Until I inevitably become an EDM snob somewhere down the line, albums like Motion are totally cool with me. Before writing this review I spent two weeks blasting this CD in my car with the windows down and had – aside from a couple completely intolerable songs – very little complaints. As long as people continue to party and continue to overlook shoddy deep cuts, the Motions of the world will never go out of style. That being said, though I’m sure Calvin Harris could easily keep pumping out albums like this for years to come (and I’ll probably dig a few tracks off of each one), I’m hoping that his latest smash single “Slide”, my second favorite song of the year so far, is a sign of greater things to come.

When contrasted with the material on Motion, “Slide” is so much more mature, multifaceted, and stylistically distinctive. And his two features, Frank Ocean and Migos, could not have been a more organic fit. Though Motion showcased Calvin Harris’ undeniable ear for hits, “Slide” has me psyched to hear this talent of his applied to a more unique, impactful project. ‘Til then, I guess my Longboard money went to good use.

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

March 2016 Album Round Up!

What did I think of what the music industry had to offer in March 2016? Meh. There was the excitement of some new Kendrick Lamar (which I didn’t include here since it wasn’t an official LP per se) in addition to a few other high profile Hip-Hop releases. There was a pair of excellent albums from Metal staples Killswitch Engage and Amon Amarth. There was The Knocks. And then there was a whole lot of uninteresting shit. Regardless, below is a recap of eight records I was checking out in the midst of obsessing over my college basketball bracket.

Incarnate – Killswitch Engage

The roaring return of original vocalist Jesse Leach for 2013’s Disarm the Descent set a new standard for Killswitch Engage. Incarnate, that LP’s follow-up, smacks its remarkably high expectations right on the nose. Tracks like “The Great Deceit”, “Hate By Design”, and “Alone I Stand” have the makings of future Killswitch classics. And while Howard Jones-era albums The End of Heartache and As Daylight Dies are excellent, the three Leach records (not including the original self-titled effort) have floated to the top of the KSE discography for me. Here is a full review (I also did a print one here). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

This Is What the Truth Feels Like – Gwen Stefani

Between “Naughty” and “Red Flag”, Gwen Stefani has two of 2016’s worst pop songs, and we’re only three months in. The latter is an especially horrifying Iggy Azalea-meets-Fergie attempt sure to leave helpless ears in varying states of deformity. It’s a shame, because “Make Me Like You”, “Used to Love You”, and “Truth” are all highly listenable, radio-ready pop tunes. But then the 46-year-old Stefani makes a cringe worthy song like “Send Me a Picture”, and any album highlights are immediately drowned out. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED.

3001: A Laced Odyssey – Flatbush Zombies

Full disclosure here. I am brand new to Flatbush Zombies and have yet to hear their highly regarded BetterOffDead mixtape. But an act’s full-length debut is as good a place to start, isn’t it? Well, maybe not in Hip-Hop, but you get my point. Anyway, it didn’t take long for Flatbush Zombies to win me over, as Zombie Juice attacks the album’s first verse with a frantic inflection and a Grandmaster Flash shout out. Erick the Architect and Meechy Darko immediately follow with nimble flows and I was swoon. I have no context surrounding this LP aside from the group’s association with high profile collaborators like Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson (appearances they shy away from on here). What I can say, however, is 3001 is chalk full of charisma, grade-A lyricism, and unique production. If this is the future of Hip-Hop, the genre is in quite capable hands. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

55 – The Knocks

It’s hard to believe we’re a year and a half removed from when “Classic” dropped, isn’t it? Either way, a fuck ton of A-listers grace this duo’s highly anticipated debut. While there’s certainly tracks like “Tied to You” and the X Ambassadors collaboration “Comfortable” that I don’t care for, 55 has a remarkably high batting average. The track list comes out of the gate 5 for 5 and doesn’t really slow up. And most importantly, the guest appearances actually do the LP a service rather than simply get in its way. Cam’ron kills it. Wyclef kills it. Later on, Carly Rae kills it. 55 is diverse yet focused. It’s instantly likeable. It’s truly how EDM and Pop SHOULD merge (I’m looking directly at you, Avicii!). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Jomsviking – Amon Amarth

Amon Amarth’s tenth studio album and first full-blown concept record just might be their best in a decade. The Viking Metallers’ tried-and-true formula is accompanied by a trio of stylistic risks – the singalong chorus in “Raise Your Horns”, the blatant Maiden worship of “At Dawn’s First Light”, and a vocal duet with Doro Pesch in “A Dream that Cannot Be” – that ultimately pay off and help diversify the band’s sound. The cohesive storyline enriches the listening experience, recalling Amon Amarth’s best story-based moments (“Prediction of Warfare”, anyone?). Doro’s guest vocal appearance at the narrative’s climax (the aforementioned “A Dream That Cannot Be”) generated perhaps the most unique moment in Amon Amarth’s discography to date. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Black – Asking Alexandria

Sometimes a simple lineup change is enough to shove a new record into my ears from a band I have loathed from the beginning. And many a time I regret this morbid curiosity getting the best of me. Such is the case with Asking Alexandria’s fourth album The Black, their first with new vocalist Denis Stoff. Despite all the hype about stylistic departures and whatnot, it’s still more or less the faceless Metalcore of their first two LPs, albeit with a bit of traditional Hard Rock and Heavy Metal hastily thrown in. For instance, those chunky verse riffs in “Just a Slave to Rock ‘n Roll” have no business alongside the overly sappy melodic chorus – the track is completely Frankenstein’d together. In general, The Black offers a lot in the way of melodrama, but little in the way of thoughtful song construction or compelling musicianship. Hey, I did give this one a fair shot though. NOT RECOMMENDED

Collegrove – 2 Chainz & Lil’ Wayne

2 Chainz and Lil’ Wayne’s collaborative album (on 8 of the 13 tracks, at least) feels more like a mixtape most of the time, but in 2016 what the fuck is the difference anymore? Whatever label you feel is appropriate, this project is jam packed with lazy fucking hooks that tested my attention span and my nerves (see “Blue C-Note”, “Bentley Truck”, or “Not Invited”). It’s especially disappointing since the effective lead single “Gotta Lotta” surpasses any post-Carter IV music Wayne has dropped. And I did enjoy the cinematic trap beat and clever Weezy verse on “Smell Like Money”, as well as the production on “Dedication”, which sounded like something Wiz Khalifa would’ve spit over five years ago. But beyond that, Collegrove didn’t hold my interest. But I did learn the magnificently pretentious word “portmanteau” from its title. NOT RECOMMENDED.

That’s Hip Hop – Joell Ortiz

The four members of Slaughterhouse have been dropping projects as if they’re actively trying to outpace each other. Joell Ortiz did the !llmind collaboration Human last summer, Joe Budden dropped All Love Lost, Crooked I (aka Kxng Crooked) put out Statik Kxng with Statik Selektah, and now Royce da 5’9 has a new mixtape Trust the Shooter out that directly precedes Layers (out April 15th), and supposedly has ANOTHER full-length album on the way. Whew. I’ve never had to take a deep breath after typing something before. What caught my eye about Joell Ortiz’s new record That’s Hip Hop– aside from my Slaughterhouse fandom – is that he coaxed one of my favorites, the legendary Kool G Rap, onto a song with him! So I had to listen to the album. At 30 minutes and nine real songs, it’s got the feel of either Illmatic or a brief mixtape – whichever comparison you goons prefer. It’s also exponentially more aggressive than 2014’s House Slippers ,the last Ortiz project I gave thorough, repeated listens. While I did enjoy House Slippers, the Puerto Rican is rapping like he has something to prove again. That’s Hip Hop lives up to its name and then some! RECOMMENDED.

 

 

 

The Fall 2015 Pregame Playlist

As I prepare for yet another Jack Daniels-sponsored night of played-out top 40 hits, increasingly horrific dance moves, and general sloppiness of many incarnations, it comes time to reflect. Time to reflect on a semester in which I’ve experienced a monumental methodological shift in my weekly partying and the copious alcohol consumption that operates in tandem. For the last three months or so, I have been accompanied by a playlist.

It happened completely by accident. Because of the sheer variety of music I enjoy, coupled with my abnormally low tolerance for repeated listens, I have always been a staunch opponent of Party and Work Out playlists. For God’s sake, change it up. There’s so much out there that’s not Drake, it’ll blow you away. Anyway, due to my Baby Boomer level of technological savvy, it took me until Summer 2015 to discover the wondrous beauty of YouTube to MP3. Upon this life-altering revelation, I began to accumulate various “turn up” songs that I would never necessarily own but have always enjoyed pregaming to via YouTube, many of them extremely questionable to everyone else. Without even realizing it, I had curated a fucking playlist.

Now I assume nearly everyone’s familiar with the basic, triadic college night structure – 1) drinks with a small crew of close friends, 2) the larger scale “official” pregame, and 3) the main event, at which you hope to either get laid, hang with casual friends you don’t often see, get completely obliterated to celebrate/mourn an occasion, or if you have a banner night, all of the above. For some odd reason, I’ve always taken Phase 1 very seriously, except I execute it in utter solitude. In order to boost my mood, transition from work to fun, and enter the headspace required for a successful night of partying, it has always been crucial for me to have a few drinks alone to the exact party music that I want to hear, and have whatever “deeper” thoughts I need to have before I go mingle with a sea of people I pretend to like, to a soundtrack that I also – for the most part – pretend to like. This 30-minute ritual has slowly evolved into the routine that no good night of mine can start without. Sometimes it’s complemented in various douche-y ways like pushups, pullups, or a nutritious snack, but that’s a whole other issue.

So my newly acquired YouTube rips had a function all of a sudden. Starting at the beginning of the Fall semester in September, they were my soundtrack to Phase 1. I figured that as the semester wore on I would make some sort of changes to the playlist, but I guess that as I age (a whopping 21 years now), familiarity becomes more appealing. Before you know it, I’m going to have a monogamous girlfriend. Anyway, because of the narcissist that I am, I felt eager to share this playlist. I guess it was a big deal to me, at least. Just picture it: I’m pouring my first homemade Jack and Coke, putting on some sort of button down that I’d never wear if I could be socially accepted otherwise, and contemplating whether we actually have any sort of control over our own destinies. Who knows, maybe somebody somewhere else is doing the exact same weird shit.

1) Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Heads Will Roll (A-Trak Remix) – so basic it hurts

2) Sum 41: In Too Deep (Kasum Remix) – a great EDM remix that invigorates an otherwise tired, unwelcome throwback

3) ‘NSync: Tearin’ Up My Heart – yep. One of my all time favorites. Wish I were kidding

4) Backstreet Boys: Everybody (Rock Your Body) – see number 3

5) David Guetta: Titanium (feat. Sia) – how this hasn’t gotten old is beyond me. Still possibly my favorite party song for its mix of danceable beat and dramatic vocals

6) Waka Flocka Flame: No Hands (feat. Roscoe Dash & Wale) – as effective as it was in 2010

7) ScHoolboy Q: Man of the Year – that mesmerizing beat puts my mind in a place that only this song can

8) Porter Robinson: Sad Machine – who knew EDM could make you feel so intensely?

9) Cascada: I Need a Miracle – see numbers 3 and 4

10) Future: Same Damn Time – I never fuck with trap. But THIS…

11) Jay-Z: We Made It (Remix) [feat. Jay Electronica] – the fucking bars on this track. This one should be automatically programmed into every sports locker room

12) Flashdance: She’s a Maniac – do you NOT pregame to 80’s dance anthems?

13) Ariana Grande: The Way (feat. Mac Miller) – Big Pun beat plus Easy Mac plus hot chick? Sign me up.

14) Kaskade: Disarm You (feat. Ilsey) – I wrote about this here

15) The Killers: Smile Like You Mean It (Madeon Remix) – Madeon flipped this gem from Hot Fuss into something equally special

16) Madeon: Adventure (entire fucking album) – THE party album of 2015. Just mindblowing

Kaskade’s “Disarm You” Single

Yes, Electronic Dance Music is a complex, multi-faceted entity, an ever-expanding entanglement of musical experiment, exploration, and fusion But…it’s also kind of about bangers, and Kaskade makes bangers, in abundance. It’s nearly August 2015, and Kaskade’s 2011 Fire & Ice release is still in heavy rotation for me whenever alcohol is in close proximity. Not to mention the dreamy, subdued vibes of 2013’s Atmosphere, which contained essentials like “Feeling the Night”, “Last Chance”, and the title track.

As July 2015 comes to a close, the weather is warm, the clothes are less, and the carefree living is contagious. It’s time for Kaskade to make a welcome contribution to the soundtrack.

For the follow-up to last summer’s I Remember compilation, Kaskade is partnering with Warner Brothers Records, setting this project up to be a huge mainstream moment for EDM.

As of last Thursday, Kaskade has dropped “Disarm You”, a new single from the forthcoming release. The track features female vocalist Ilsey, who guested on the track Headlights by German DJ Robin Schultz – an extremely catchy if not run-of-the-mill house joint released earlier this year. Very familiar with Kaskade’s reliable pop-hook-sung-by-a-female-vocalist-followed-by-a-big-drop formula, I was ready for more of the (pleasantly generic) same. And “Disarm You” delivers.

As expected, the calm, airy verses simply function as a backdrop for an explosive chorus. Backed by subtle yet cinematic keyboard arrangements and Isley’s angelic voice, a militant, reverb-heavy snare pattern quickly builds into a signature, radio-ready Kaskade drop. And one of his best in recent years at that.

I even have forgiveness in my heart for the played-out “woah-oh-oh’s” in this track that were already beat to death when Avicii released “Fade Into Darkness” four years ago. EDM purists, on the other hand, might be slightly less tolerant – the mere mention of Tiesto’s poppy little ditty “Red Lights”, for instance, sends a good buddy of mine into a beautiful mixture of rage, disillusion, and bewilderment.

Is “Disarm You” cut from that same sell-out cloth? I am not the right person to ask. What do I know as a casual EDM consumer, however, is that this track is going to thrive. It’s going to thrive in nightclubs, at house parties, and anywhere where BAC levels sit somewhere in the vicinity of a major league pitcher’s batting average. With five weeks left of summer, I’m psyched to send a few alcoholic beverages down the hatch while “Disarm You” blares through my low-quality speakers, and I’m even more psyched to check out Kaskade’s next album, due out later this year.