March 2017 Album Round Up!

So, halfway through the month of April, you’re getting my recap of all the music that came out in March. Sick, right?

Though I never try to be particularly timely, this is particularly untimely, and for that I am deeply sorry. Well, I’m not sorry, ‘cause I don’t really care about your feelings, but it does feel like I’m turning in a big paper past its due date or something.

The reason this month’s Round Up is a bit late is because my band spent a week in the studio laying down our debut singles with Joe Cocchi from Within the Ruins. We had such a fucking blast, and I’m beyond psyched to share them with the world in the coming months! I’m so proud of the work we did, and I’m so grateful to Joe being every a band can ask for in a producer. But at the same time, it’s nice to get back to being a “listener”, ya know? As I write this, Kendrick Lamar AND John Mayer have just dropped new albums, and Gorillaz, All That Remains, and more are on their way, so it’s safe to say there will be no shortage of content for my April Round Up! But hey, March wasn’t too shabby either. Here are my thoughts on some of last month’s releases:

Divide – Ed Sheeran

This is gonna sound fucking weird, but bare with me. The only thing Divide has going for it is (ahem) cuteness. No, not Mr. Hipster Ron Weasley himself (though I’m a straight male so how would I know?), but the songs themselves. The only moments I enjoyed on this otherwise pretty bland LP were the charming, cheeky ones, like on “New Man” when Sheeran neurotically jokes about Instagram creeping (“trying not to double tap/I know that’s where the trouble’s at”), or on “Eraser”, where he, I guess, “raps”. There’s also “Galway Girl”, which uses actual Irish instrumentation to a below-deck-Titanic-scene effect. These are the only times I felt truly engaged. Otherwise I’m kind of indifferent. NOT RECOMMENDED

Number 1 Angel – Charli XCX

 Though she has been featured on two of the most annoying chart-toppers in the history of music (Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”), Charli XCX makes fucking outstanding Pop music as a solo artist. Her latest mixtape is my favorite Pop project of 2017 thus far. It DOES occasionally cater to some industry trends – the opening one-two punch is a trap-heavy banger (“Dreamer”) followed by a dancehall-informed number (“3 AM”) – but Charli maintains a spunky swagger that is all her own. The EDM-dominated “Roll With Me” is likely to be a party favorite, while the ballad “Emotional” is lucky to get stuck in your head for days at a time. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Godless Prophets & the Migrant Flora – Darkest Hour

The unsung heroes of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal returned this month with their crowdfunded ninth album, an unquestionable return-to-form following 2014’s polarizing self-titled release, which was a little too “Warped Tour” for the Metalcore quintet’s diehard fans. Prophets sizzles with quintessential Darkest Hour fury, though its strongest cuts (“None of This is the Truth”, “Enter Oblivion”) are the dynamic ones that are able to balance the aggression with quieter passages. Though I didn’t love every track, my longstanding Metal heroes delivered. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Obsidian Arc – Pillorian

Likely to be one of my top Metal albums of the entire year, ex-Agalloch frontman John Haughm’s first release since his legendary band’s breakup is nothing short of extraordinary. Imagine if Agalloch made a record that fused some of their moody, acoustic passages with a straight up, quintessential Black Metal sound. It’s as fucking amazing as you pictured it. Obsidian Arc manages to bring some of Agalloch’s signature strengths to the table while effortlessly capturing every single mood that’s ever been associated with Black Metal: rage, despair, terror, agony, depression, and everything in between – they’re all on this record. I could go on forever about this fucking thing on here, so here is a full review instead. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

More Life – Drake

Aside from the entrancing nightclub melancholy of “Passionfruit”, which was one of my favorite songs of the year so far, and the rousing Kanye collab “Glow”, I don’t have much to say about Drake’s Views follow-up that isn’t “meh”. The guy just hasn’t wowed me in a long time. His musical continues to veer into wallpaper territory, and his petty personality continues to rub me wrong. But just like all of his past projects, the shining moments on More Life give me reason to continue to root for the guy in the hopes that he wows me again. NOT RECOMMENDED

Heartworms – The Shins

On the band’s sixth LP, The Shins continue to be a definitive band for the Alternative genre. But they manage to do it while weaving together a track list that’s anything but one-dimensional. Two of my favorite songs on here are the synth-peppered “Cherry Hearts” and the Alt-heavy, acoustic-driven title track, both of which couldn’t be more different from one another. James Mercer’s ability to stir ingredients from several different corners of Alternative music into one delicious recipe continues to impress me. This is one of his best works. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross

I have never been a fan of Rick Ross. Though he’s had a banger or two on almost every record, I’ve never been able to enjoy his fabricated lyrical narratives and by-the-numbers mainstream Rap sound. So it came as a complete and utter shock when Rather You Than Me was fucking awesome! I still can’t believe how much I’m enjoying this. The production is outstanding, whether it’s the lavish, luxurious sound of tracks like “Santorini Greece” and the saxophone-driven “Game Ain’t Based on Sympathy”, or it’s trap bangers like “Dead Presidents and “Summer Seventeen”, or it’s the more stripped-down, simplistic sounds of the Birdman diss “Idols Become Rivals” or the Nas collab “Powers that Be”. As for the features? They’re out of this world. The aforementioned “Dead Presidents” has possibly the best Future verse I’ve heard since 2011. And Nas, Scrilla, Yo Gotti, Jeezy, Young Thug, and many more ALL add a ton of character to this tracklist. And on some of these songs, Ross even sounds a bit more – hold your breath – HONEST. Like he’s not making everything up this time around. But even if he is, he’s made an excellent record. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Conformicide – Havok

The fourth LP from these Colorado thrashers is nothing short of astonishing. Though the band’s musical foundation is built on the Megadeths and Death Angels of the world, Conformicide spends as much time pushing boundaries as it does worshipping its heroes. It takes Thrash in some proggy territory, some political territory, and punishes listeners with more twisted, mean riffs than they even know what to do with. Not to mention bass wizard Nick Schendzielos, who provides some of the best and most inventive bass playing I’ve ever heard on a Thrash record on highlights like “F.P.C”. See, ann album like Conformicide is precisely why I’ve given (unpopular) mixed reviews of recent efforts from the likes of Metallica, Testament and Overkill – look at how a band like Havok is pushing Thrash as a whole! Younger Thrash bands like Havok and Vektor continue to set the bar for the genre. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Eternity, In Your Arms – Creeper 

Unfortunately, ya boy doesn’t buy into the hype. Creeper’s highly anticipated debut was supposed to turn Pop Punk on its head, but all it did for me was give me a few super catchy emo-tinged jams (namely “Black Rain” and “Hiding With Boys”) and spent the rest of its runtime underwhelming me. But there are definitely times, like on standout track “Poison Pens” where these guys feel like they COULD be worthy successors to AFI. Or, you know, maybe I should stop trying to like music like this. I don’t know. NOT RECOMMENDED

Bloodlust – Body Count

Not only was this fucking thing my Record of the Month, but it was the most pleasant surprise of 2017 so far. Ice-T and Co made a crushing M-E-T-A-L record that I had no idea they were capable of! While still proudly Hip-Hop influenced, Bloodlust is legitimately crushing, especially on the Randy Blythe-assisted “Walk With Me…”, the vengeful “This Is Why We Ride”, the irresistible title track, and the politically-charged “No Lives Matter”. I just can’t believe how good this is…Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

 

LIKE:

Woe to the Vanquished – Warbringer

Captain California – Murs

Hot Thoughts – Spoon

At What Cost – Goldlink

Obituary – Obituary (full review here)

Emperor of Sand – Mastodon

DON’T LIKE:

Look at Yourself – Emmure

Black and White Rainbows – Bush

The Wild – Raekwon

For the Fallen – Memoriam (full review here)

The Great Collapse – Fit For An Autopsy

Tremaine The Album – Trey Songz

 

 

Mastodon’s “Emperor of Sand”: Three Singles Deep

Before we put the first quarter of 2017 in the books, this coming Friday is shaping up to be a hell of a send-off. We’ll be wrapping up the quarter with one of 2017’s biggest blockbuster Metal releases; Mastodon, the critical darlings of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal, the one Metal band other than Deafheaven that hipster Pitchfork readers are allowed to like, is dropping LP number seven.

Emperor of Sand will be the follow-up to 2014’s Once More ‘Round the Sun, a record that found the adventurous band thriving as much within concise songs, simpler structures, and subtle conceptuality as they had thrived with the winding, complex Prog Metal of 2009’s Crack the Skye, the latter which a big chunk of Mastodon’s fans consider to be an apex in the band’s illustrious 17-year career.

We’ve gotten three glimpses into Once More ‘Round the Sun’s successor, in the form of the pre-album singles “Sultan’s Curse”, “Show Yourself”, and “Andromeda”. So far, Emperor of Sand sounds like the logical next step in Mastodon’s discography – these tunes are even more melodic and to-the-point than the ones on their last LP, but they’re still dense; they’re still very musically involved. Of course, these scatterbrained Georgians have never been short on surprises, so I’m not saying jack shit until I get some quality time with the full record. According to drummer Brann Dailor though, Emperor of Sand does have a cohesive theme tying it together, so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.

One more thing: I love how the band only released three pre-album singles. In the age of rapid-fire Internet consumption, the mystique of a new record is precious, and unfortunately, i find it constantly eludes us. To put it in perspective: at this time last year, when I reviewed Killswitch Engage’s Incarnate, half the track list was out before I bought the CD on release day. It didn’t hugely impact my enjoyment of the album, but I like being left to speculate; I won’t REALLY know what Emperor of Sand sounds like until Friday. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sultan’s Curse

The album opener and first official leak, “Sultan’s Curse” boasts an irresistibly groovy main riff and raspy but melodic vocal interplay between Troy Sanders, Brent Hinds, and Brann Dailor, whose chemistry is like a seasoned track squad running a relay race. Dailor’s restless skinsmanship is a crucial factor in this song being as engaging as it is – notice how he anchors the main riff during its first and third tail, but flails during its second and fourth, always keeping listeners on their toes. In general, it’s truly amazing how much is PACKED into these four minutes. This song has so much to it, yet the parts flow seamlessly. The apex for me is the bridge at 1:57, with its slightly psychedelic, Sabbath-esque guitars.

Show Yourself

In a way, this song is the “poppiest” Mastodon have ever sounded. But my God is it fucking catchy. During the verses, Brann Dailor’s vocal harmonies are airtight, and the guitars are almost danceable. It makes perfect sense that this one got the video treatment. I will reiterate for the thousandth time: Mastodon’s three-singer thing cannot be overstated – it keeps every second of this track feeling dynamic and fresh. And although I love seeing Mastodon get proggy and weird, the compact structure here is key in this song’s success – get in, get out, no bells and whistles. Prog-heads can cry a bucket of tears.

Andromeda

This track’s incredibly ugly main riff and its loudly mixed accompanying bassline kind of reminds me of Gorguts. It’s certainly a nice contrast to the sugar sweetness of “Show Yourself”. Things also get a bit eerie in the chorus with some harmonic minor guitar leads and Dailor and Sanders’ ghostly vocals. I also enjoy hearing that psychedelic guitar tone from “Sultan’s Curse” make another appearance, and I thought the guitar solo, with its quirky phrasing, was an excellent addition. Another great track with another different flavor. I am so fucking psyched for Friday!