April 2017 Album Round Up!

So, another month came and went. The first week of April (right around the time the Chainsmokers released once of the worst albums of the year) kicked off the month in exciting fashion for me – my band hit the studio with Joe Cocchi from Within the Ruins and cranked out a couple killer tunes that I can’t wait to unleash on the world. After that? Well, I worked 50-hour weeks, squeezed out some YouTube videos, and socialized approximately zero times. I’ve currently been sober for 31 days, which is the longest I’ve gone without booze since I first started drinking when I was 15. It’s not an AA type thing – lately I’ve just found myself growing out of that lifestyle.

I’d like to report that laying off the sauce has drastically improved my day-to-day existence and forever altered the course of my life, but I’m pretty sure it’s just made me marginally less cranky and a lot more boring. But I still by no means endorse drinking – after all, have you seen the absolute rape of a markup that bars get away with on Jack and Cokes and other well drinks? Sheesh. Save your money, kids.

There was also the Kendrick Lamar album, which, now that I think of it, formed the nucleus of April 2017 in many ways. My GOD are we witnessing history with that guy. He fucking delivered again.

Anyway, here are my monthly biased-as-all-hell musings on some new music. I gotta say, 2017’s got some serious momentum now –  I couldn’t be more excited heading into May’s stacked release schedule!

Memories…Do Not Open – The Chainsmokers

This is…just, lowest common denominator everything. Lyrically, it has the depth of a sixth grader’s diary – “opener “The One” is SERIOUSLY about not being able to go to a friend’s party, and “Bloodstream” begins with the declaration, “I’ve been drunk three times this week” (not to mention this gem on “Last Day Alive”: “the night is young and we are young”) – and musically, it has the depth of, well, a sixth grader’s diary. The beat to “Break Up Every Night” sounds like a commercial for a Chuck E Cheese, while the drop in “Wake Up Alone” is mind-bogglingly juvenile. In all honesty, I feel like the frat party music/EDM crossover is a wonderful niche (one The Chainsmokers have successfully exploited with songs like “Roses”) but this is, like, teeny bop shit! It’s horribly dumbed down even by Pop standards! NOT RECOMMENDED

All Amerikkkan Bada$$ – Joey Bada$$

While some people may point to the likes of Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole as “ old school Hip-Hop revivalists”, I couldn’t disagree more. When I think of that term in its purest sense, I think of Joey Bada$$ the Brooklyn MC who may have born in 1995, but spits like that’s the current calendar year. Given my affinity for ‘90s Hip-Hop, his debut B4.Da.$$ was one of my favorite Hip-Hop albums of 2015, and its follow-up is even better (and way hookier). Gritty standout “Rockabye Baby” is the epitome of the aforementioned revivalism; anybody from The Lox to Mobb Deep to Nas to Big Pun would sound great on that instrumental (ScHoolboy Q ultimately steals the show with its guest spot). The melodic, almost serene ”For My People”, meanwhile, might be my favorite Hip-Hop track of 2017 thus far. My only gripe with this album is that Joey tackles familiar race issues without having any sort of unique perspective – it’s all the same “cops are out to kill me”, “racism is bad” “government is evil” kind of shit. It’s important shit to talk about, but it needs a new spin. Other than that, the dude is proving to be the real deal. RECOMMENDED

The Search for Everything – John Mayer

After forays into Country and Folk music with his last two LPs, John Mayer’s glorious return to the Pop world is an enjoyable but somewhat fluffy affair. While I dug the hell out of the mushy, relatable romance of “Love on the Weekend”, the wonderful break-up fodder of tracks like “Never on the Day You Leave” and “Moving on and Getting Over”, as well as the crunchy rocker “Helpless”, there were also a few empty, excessively dumbed down cuts like “In the Blood” and “Changing” that made this album underwhelming for me. Knowing Mayer’s talent, I’d prefer to be challenged as a listener. But he still hits his mark more often than not. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

If you want some extended thoughts on this album, it’s best to go here, but I gotta say this: we are witnessing Hip-Hop history here. What many other artist in the history of the genre has come right out of the gate with FOUR INCREDIBLE RECORDS?? Outkast? Maybe. Eric B. and Rakim? Perhaps. But it’s a fucking select few. So when this dropped, I just soaked up the moment. This guy will go down as one of the greats. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Season High – Little Dragon

This Swedish Electronic group’s 5th studio album was my first outing with them. And to be blunt, I didn’t care for the slow-moving, campy, anti-climatic music that I came across. Maybe I just lack the necessary nuance in my taste for dance music, but these songs didn’t have the rousing energy that I look for in the genre. It was more like a goofy video game soundtrack with grating vocals. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Assassination of Julius Caesar – Ulver

Listening back to their classic debut album Bergtatt, I can’t think of a Metal band that has undergone as dramatic a transformation as Ulver over the years. In 2017, over 23 years after that seminal Black Metal release, they’re not even classifiably “Metal” anymore. The Assassination of Julius Caesar dips its toes into dance, a bit of new wave, and a whole lot of moody, nocturnal soundscapes. The spacey, mesmerizing “Southern Gothic” is a favorite of mine, as is the opening track “Nemoralia”, with its smooth electro strut and gorgeous vocals from Kristoffer Rygg. Whatever the fuck the genre is, these guys continue to wow me. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Seven – Talib Kweli & Styles P

These two Hip-Hop veterans came together for seven fun yet thought-provoking tracks that delicately balance a carefree cypher spirit with uncompromising sociopolitical commentary, particularly as it retains to race issues. Here is a full review. You should watch it, given that Talib himself loved it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Coming Home – Falling in Reverse

It makes me chuckle that I spent way more time unpacking this record than I thought I would. ‘Cause to be honest, I went into it with a sorta snobby, scornful dismissiveness, but when early cuts like “I Hate Everyone” and the title track were genuinely catchy, I was shocked. Was this album going to be the ultimate sleeper?? I started to get excited. The answer, though, was a resounding NO as I was introduced to songs like “Superhero” and “Hanging On”, and simultaneously realized that all of these childish lyrics were being sung by a 33-year-old man (in case you didn’t know, Falling in Reverse is fronted by ex-Escape the Fate frontman Ronnie Radke). Plus, I don’t see how the supposed “space theme” ties in except for a few corny Starset-lite studio effects. NOT RECOMMENDED

Madness – All That Remains

In what could be the final nail in the coffin for many of their older fans, All That Remains completed their descent into radio rock mediocrity with this LP. Featuring three of the sappiest, shittiest ballads I have ever heard (“If I’m Honest”, “Far From Home”, and “Back To You”) as well as neutered, passionless production from Howard Benson (who likewise ruined In Flames’ last record), Madness is everything fans have been afraid of as the band has teetered on the edge of Pop-Metal. Personally, since All That Remains has never been a “brutal” band anyway, I’d encourage them to keep going in this direction. If they just drop the ballads and write some better songs next time, maybe this could work out. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

 Makes Me Sick – New Found Glory

These pop-punk pioneers came roaring back with an album that reaffirms their position as one of the very best at the genre they helped usher in. These tunes are just brimming with sugar sweet hooks and carefree, spunky energy. Listening to the sheepish innocence on display during “Short and Sweet” – where frontman Jordan Pundik gushes to his crush, “I don’t deserve someone as beautiful as you” – these guys haven’t aged a bit. The youthful spirit of this record is not forced at all. Special shout out to standout cut “Sound of Two Voices”, which is like….I don’t even know….Tropical-Pop-Dance-Punk? I love it! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Back to the Basics – Rich Homie Quan

Lovely Little Lonely – The Maine

Long Live Nut – YFN Lucci

How Will You Know If You Never Try – COIN

Pure Comedy – Father John Misty

DON’T LIKE:

Extinction – Harlott

Humanz – Gorillaz

Youth – Tinie Tempah

Embodiment – Enterprise Earth

SHINE – Wale

Terror’s “The Walls Will Fall” EP

Calling all you mosh-thirsty punks! West Coast Hardcore stalwarts Terror are back with a brand new EP, The Walls Will Fall; their first new music in nearly two years. It’s five songs, it’s nine minutes, and – as expected – it rips.

This band has been cranking out punishing, sub-30 minute Hardcore releases for the better part of 15 years. They’re remarkably reliable, delivering a healthy mix of New York Hardcore, a bit of Crossover Thrash, and a bit of Metalcore with every biennial LP (2013’s Live by the Code might be my favorite at the moment). And The Walls Will Fall should once again satisfy the Hardcore purists – who from my experience, are even more fickle than those dreaded Metal purists – that flock to this band.

What’s most notable about The Walls Will Fall is its deliberate, even pacing. Opener “Balance the Odds” allows its slow-building intro to segue into urgent Crossover riffing before settling back into a mid-tempo mosh (that final breakdown is so sick – “the freedom of my life – I’ll take it back!!”). The title cut has a similarly smooth sequence, with grinding Thrash rhythms consuming its first half and a simplistic half-time pulse sending off its second half.

My favorite track by far is the closer, “Step to You”, which begins in blistering fashion but morphs into a four-chord, gang vocal-riddled Punk tune that is catchy as hell and could squeeze onto a ‘90s Madball release like you wouldn’t believe (the track “Pride” from Demonstrating My Style springs to mind for me).

Guitarists Martin Stewart and Jordan Posner once again bring an appropriately chunky, mean guitar tone (though I still think the best rhythm tone they’ve achieved was on Live By the Code – it had more of a raw “dryness” to it), and Scott Vogel continues to be a quintessential Hardcore frontman. These five tracks went straight on my gym playlist, and they deserve a spot on yours. Props to Terror for not tampering with a winning formula, and I look forward to the next full-length!

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.

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!

 

January 2017 Album Round Up!

Greetings to all you lovebirds out there 😉

If you’ve got a special someone in your life, hope you and your bank account are gearing up for some good ol’ Valentine’s Day lovin’ next week . If that special someone is still finding their way to you, or if they already did and you fucking blew it, hope the ice cream, tears, and rom com re-runs are good to you. But for most of the single guys out there, hope you enjoy another typical Tuesday with a pointless cultural label where getting laid might be slightly easier.

As for me, I hope to spend Valentine’s Day VERY erotically – listening to that new Marilyn Manson record he’s hinted at (literally the opposite of coincidentally) releasing on that day. It’s supposed to be called Say10. If that title doesn’t strike a chord with you, slowly pronounce it out loud until it clicks. Don’t worry, it took me an embarrassing amount of time to put two and two together, too.

So while you make the necessary preparations (read: purchases) for a drama-free and sex-filled Valentine’s Day, here are some thoughts on what the first month of 2017 had to offer music-wise! We’re off to a pretty good start if you ask me!

Forever – Code Orange

 The hottest act in Metalcore unleashed their third record this month to frenzied excitement. Me? Just a contrarian son of a bitch, I guess. I LIKE album – furious cuts like “Real”, “Spy” and the title track are bone-crushing rushes of adrenaline, and my biggest praise is the LP’s mindboggling variety, with “Bleeding In the Blur” bringing some melodic Post-Hardcore to the table and “Ugly” fusing together ‘90s Alt-Rock with gruff Hard Rock – but the barrage of not-so-special breakdowns does get tiresome and a couple cuts (“The Mud”, “Hurt Goes On”) miss their mark. So yeah. Cool record but I didn’t go head-over-heels for it like everybody else did. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Vessels – Starset

 I went against the grain with this new Starset record too, the band’s second. Vessels fuses together Electronic Music, Butt Rock, and some djent-y modern Metalcore for a sugar sweet but unfulfilling outing full of excessively angsty hooks, non-guitar riffs, and such a thick layer of production that it’s impossible to tell if a single thing is performed by a human being. It’s unbelievably catchy at points, and I understand the appeal, but it’s not gonna be anything more than an occasional guilty pleasure for me. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Return of the Cool – Nick Grant

After stumbling across this Billboard article on Nick Grant last year, Return of the Cool quickly became one of my most anticipated debuts of 2017. With the momentum the 28-year-old Grant has behind him right now, I was ready to bear witness to the meteoric rise of Hip-Hop’s next breakout star – and most of all, I was ready to hear soul and lyricism reinstated in Southern Hip-Hop (not to say I dislike what’s going on down there right now, but, I did grow up with ATLIENS as my bible). On Return of the Cool, the South Carolina native shows some promise and a bit of an old school flair, but the project disappointed the hell out of me. The painfully generic “Bouncin’” could’ve been made by ANY of Grant’s contemporaries (Logic, J. Cole, Big Sean Kendrick, etc.). And despite references to icons like Lauryn Hill and Nas, Grant doesn’t do much to uphold their standards with lines like “curves driving me crazy, I need some counseling”. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Search For Everything (Wave One) – John Mayer

 My fellow Pretentious Fairfield County, CT Douchebag is employing an adventurous and exciting release strategy for his seventh LP – he’s releasing four songs at a time in monthly “waves”. In the uncertain and uneasy free-for-all that is music promotion in 2017, I’m so glad to see someone with Mayer’s clout try a different approach. As for the music on “Wave One”? Simply put, three out of four songs connected for me. Most notably, however, I was psyched to see Mayer take a break from the genre gymnastics of his last few releases and just pen some straight ahead, no frills Pop tunes. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Machine Messiah – Sepultura

 Growing up, I thought all you had to know about Sepultura occurred in the less-than-4-hour combined run time of Beneath the Remains, Chaos A.D., Arise, and Roots. I still sorta feel that way, but I was curious to hear Machine Messiah, which is now the band’s eighth (!) as Sepultura 2.0 since Derrick Green took over on vocals in 1997 (by comparison, they only made six LPs with Max Cavalera). So I felt behind.And I gotta say, I’m impressed with this current incarnation’s mix of Thrash, Groove Metal, a bit of Extreme Metal,, and the most thrilling surprise, a symphonic element on tracks like “Sworn Oath” and “Resistant Parasites”! Worth checking out if you’re like me and have only ever known “classic Sepultura”. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 Culture – Migos

Around 20 million people were watching the Golden Globes when, two weeks before the release of their sophomore album, Donald Glover unexpectedly shouted out the Migos during an acceptance speech (his PHENOMENAL tv show Atlanta took home two awards that night). And with Culture, it’s safe to say the Migos are seizing their moment in the sun. This LP is the EPITOME of the Atlanta-based trap sound: Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff hop on these knocking instrumentals (one of the best collections of trap beats I have ever heard) with colorful ad-libs, tons of charisma, and memorable refrains. I mean, how could you not just throw on a track like “T-Shirt” or “Call Casting” and vibe out? Historically , I’m into Rap like this, so I’m gonna need some more time with it, but Culture just might be an unexpected 2017 favorite. RECOMMENDED

Gods of Violence – Kreator

 On album number fourteen from the legendary German thrashers, they delivered a collection of powerhouse Metal anthems and did so without being restricted by that old school Thrash “leash” that some of their veteran peers seem to be hindered by. As with its predecessor Phantom Antichrist, Gods of Violence draws on not just Thrash but Melodic Death Metal, streaks of classic NWOBHM, and a bit of lyrical inspiration from Viking Metal for a well-rounded listen. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

I See You – The xx

The third LP from these British indie poppers is chalk full of seductive nocturnal vibes that range from slightly spacey (“A Violent Noise”) to hipster nightclub-y (“Dangerous”) to just plain heart-wrenching (“Performance). While these guys’ music has never really “clicked” with me, I actually found myself enjoying a good chunk of this album! Unfortunately, one thing that bugs me is how overwhelmingly seriously these guys take themselves – at times, they oversell their emotions in an almost histrionic fashion that leaves me feeling a bit drained, like I’m not allowed to enjoy myself or something. Plus, Romy and Oliver just AREN’T the best singers from a technical standpoint. But it’s still a solid LP, definitely The xx’s best yet! RECOMMENDED

AFI (The Blood Album) – AFI

 Call it nostalgia, call it glass half full, call it “a retard who knows nothing about anything” like you all love to do on YouTube, but AFI fucking BROUGHT it this time around, in a way they haven’t in over a decade! I’m serious. “White Offerings” is PURE Sing the Sorrow (the band’s landmark 2003 release – a childhood favorite of mine), while the sharp riffing in “Hidden Knives” does the song’s title justice, and tracks like “Pink Eyes” and “Snow Cats” have all the makings of hit songs (particularly the latter, with its irresistible call-and-response chorus). I’m just shocked at how into this record I am. The Blood Album is the OGs sending the new bucks back to the drawing board. These songs completely justify my endless shit talking about all these wack ass “emo” bands that are coming up on Warped Tour – this is what they should shoot for. A thoughtful melding of Punk, Post-Hardcore, and Hard Rock, The Blood Album proves that AFI still set the standard. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Migration – Bonobo

As easy on the ears as this record is, it DOES tend to drift to the background as you listen to it. The gentle, serene touch of “Break Apart” and the ambience of “Grains” are some of the most pleasant sounds you’re likely to hear from Electronic Music all year, but Migration is not the most outwardly engaging of listens. Of course, you could take that in whatever connotation you’d like! ‘Cause I don’t have any “critiques” here – just my personal experience with this LP, which is that it’s a more passive listen than his early works like Dial “M” for Monkey, which was my favorite album when I was sixteen. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot to like here, and it’s 100 percent worth a listen, but it hasn’t gotten much repeated love from me. RECOMMENDED

Lupe Fiasco’s “DROGAS Light”: Four Singles Deep

As I mentioned in my last post, next month Alleged Jew-Hater-Turned-Rap-Retiree Lupe Fiasco will be dropping a follow-up to 2015’s highly acclaimed Tetsuo & Youth, rumors and click bait be damned. A fan of Lupe’s for almost a decade, I’m as excited as I am curious to check out and review the LP, titled DROGAS Light, out February 10th. And in the past couple weeks, Lupe has now unchained more than a quarter of the 14-song tracklist for our listening pleasure via Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube.

I almost fucking missed it. I WOULD’VE fucking missed it, actually, if I hadn’t noticed “Jump” make an appearance on Apple Music’s “hot tracks” list. And so I immediately diverted my attention (from reviewing Sepultura’s Machine Messiah – coming this week on my YouTube channel) and JUMPED in, horrible pun intended.

Made in the USA (feat. Bianca Sings)

Production-wise the most “stereotypical mainstream Hip-Hop” of these tracks (possibly on purpose), “Made in the USA” might be the most energetic I’ve ever heard Lupe on a track. Lupe’s delivery is always sleek and graceful, even when the subject matter gets intense. But here, he’s fucking hype. It is tongue-and-check? Probably, because as long time fans will likely recognize, he spits these lyrics with a familiar politically-charged facetiousness – one can only assume he’s not actually that proud to be an American right now. Especially since him and Colonel Sanders aren’t on such good terms– he mentions that “KFC is trying to kill me”, and whenever a fast food chain is coming for your head, you’ve seen better days. Kidding aside, “Made in the USA” is a confusing listen in the way that a track like “Bitch Bad” is – it SOUNDS like a banger, but ‘cause Lupe clearly wants you to dig deeper, you practically feel guilty enjoying it at a surface level. And that’s why this is my least favorite of the four songs.

 Jump (feat. Gizzle)

“Jump” – which, given its lack of an impactful hook, is surprisingly the most popular of the bunch – is partially cut from the “A Milli” cloth: rapidly repeated vocal sample, booming bassline, and lots of space for stream-of-consciousness bars. But it’s actually a story track, and if you follow along, it gets pretty damn weird – the protagonist and his new female companion get abducted by aliens, and she (“she” meaning lesbian fem-C Gizzle, who has written for TONS of big name rappers) talks about sampling some…alien pussy. But it’s entertaining through and through, and I like it a lot. Is there some symbolism behind the female character in the story, or maybe the entire plot itself? I’m sure there is, but I’ll leave it to the more pretentious listeners to sort that out.

Pick up the Phone

Listening to this track, I can’t help but wonder if it would’ve boosted the success of Lupe’s heavily criticized third LP Lasers, his detour into Pop-Rap. In a way, this one’s got all the elements of a formulaic Pop chorus – acoustic guitars, simple radio-friendly chord progression, easily digestible vocal melody courtesy of Sebastian Lundberg, and some strings to add a tinge of drama. But the difference is it’s good. Really good, actually. By his standards, Lupe’s lyrics might be a tad disposable, but he flows in a way that’s friendly to Hip-Hop fans and mainstream listeners alike. We’ll see if this one can cross over. Also, the intro to the beat is reminiscent of “Superstar”, so it’s got that going for it.

Wild Child (feat. Jake Torrey)

Like “Pick Up the Phone”, “Wild Child” is another poppy affair, venturing even further in that direction. I’ll say this much: if the God damn radio doesn’t pick up on this song, I might hurt someone. Or have a stroke. Or hurt someone, then have a stroke. It’s so fucking catchy. “Wild Child” not only has a lot going for it musically – perky guitars, spunky bass lines, and a danceable, swinging groove in the chorus – it exudes a beautifully carefree vibe, and “carefree” is not a word you can use to describe ANY of Lupe’s music, really. Sure, the song’s Summer-y vibes might not fit the current mid-January climate, but who cares! I’m looking forward to having this as a sleeper song for pregames when girls are around.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – This Unruly Mess I’ve Made Review

The official edited version of this review is available here.

A Hip-Hop pariah if the industry has ever seen one, Macklemore has bore the brunt of relentless scrutiny, mockery, and derision following the meteoric success of he and Ryan Lewis’ collaborative debut LP The Heist, which began its takeover in the fourth quarter of 2012, culminating with a controversial sweep of the Rap categories at the 2014 Grammy’s.

While not even Macklemore himself thought it deserved Best Rap Album over Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city, The Heist was an excellent pop-rap album nonetheless, one that was miles ahead of similarly categorized releases that year from the likes of B.o.B., Machine Gun Kelly, Chiddy Bang, and Kid Ink. It showcased the Seattle emcee’s ability to put together conceptually focused rhymes about a wide variety of topics, all sitting over easily digestible and occasionally memorable production from Lewis. Even the noticeable moments of corniness, or worse, droning introspection, didn’t detract from its overall merit.

The duo’s follow-up, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, will prove much more difficult to defend. In reality, criticisms regarding Macklemore’s authenticity or genuineness are misplaced– he has existed in the underground for over a decade, addressing similarly goofy and uncomfortable topics long before he became infamous for it, showcased most notably on his solo debut The Language of My World. But album number two for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis falls flat artistically, its sprawling diversity a diluent and a weakness this time rather than an asset.

In all fairness, cohesion is clearly not the aim here. Conceptually, it is nearly impossible to dream up anything more disparate than the self-aware confrontation of racial issues on “White Privilege II” and the “deez nuts” joke in “Brad Pitt’s Cousin”. If both offbeat humor and overwhelming sincerity are the two definitive sides of the Macklemore coin that is perfectly fine, and both personas have a few effective moments, but when this sharply juxtaposed, they generate a scattered inconsistency that’s ultimately distracting. Macklemore pushes the two approaches impossibly deep into their extremities, making for a frustrating listen.

Perhaps it comes down to the album’s sequencing. In “Kevin” and “St. Ides”, the listener is pelted with two consecutive intense tracks addressing substance abuse, and not long after, “Dance Off” and “Let’s Eat” occur back-to-back: two songs addressing, well, dancing and eating. The listening experience becomes akin to being smacked around in a confusing, never-ending pinball machine.

The crying shame of it all is that many of these tracks function well on their own. The Chance the Rapper-assisted “Need to Know” is the obvious standout, a little ditty about self-censorship in which Mack and the Chi-town youngster assure us that “the truth would be too much”. Macklemore’s guest outshines him with a verse that manages to slip in an off-the-wall reference to Kanye West’s “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” incident. The aforementioned “Kevin” is an impassioned, thought-provoking tirade against the pharmaceutical industry’s complicit role in substance abuse, save its overly melodramatic hook and some funky guitars in the production that sound misplaced amidst the weighty subject matter. The album is also bookended by the excellent “Light Tunnels” and “White Privilege II”, the former a vivid first-person narration of Macklemore’s Grammy night experience, the latter a bold examination of a white rapper’s role in the Black Lives Matter movement.

The misses occur more often on the silly songs, like the insufferable “Dance Off” and “Let’s Eat”, the latter featuring blatantly unfunny body image gags (“I want to be like Hugh Jackman/You know, Jacked, man”). The one instance where he does effectively sell playfulness is on lead single “Downtown”, in which Mack’s nimble delivery in the verses sits perfectly over Ryan Lewis’ quirky instrumentation.

But when the solemn moments come back around, Macklemore is especially tough on himself. Many of album’s serious cuts (“Light Tunnels”, “Need to Know”, “St. Ides”, “White Privilege II”) contain such an abundance of ruthless self-loathing that there ends up being very little in the way of entertainment. A majority of the time, it is utterly suffocating.

This Unruly Mess I’ve Made is a formidable challenge to the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. In the case of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ sophomore effort, its eclectic ingredients clash in truly exhausting fashion, rendering the LP’s overall message incomprehensible and convoluted.

Score: 2/5

Wolfmother – Victorious Review

The official edited version of this review is available here.

If imitation is truly a form of flattery, each new Wolfmother record marks another occasion for 70s Rock icons like Jimmy Page, Roger Daltrey, and Tony Iommi to sit back with pride and soak up their own legacies. For over a decade, the Australian trio’s calling card has been an uncompromisingly retro delivery of Hard Rock in the vein of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and several more of the genre’s key pioneers. Critically speaking, Wolfmother’s blatantly derivative nature has been a double-edged sword, although when the quality is as unmistakable as their eponymous 2006 debut – a high-water mark the band has unfortunately yet to match – it becomes difficult to take aim at Wolfmother simply because “it’s been done before”.

Album number four for the Aussies, the Brendan O’Brien-produced Victorious, is anything but a stylistic departure. Very little of its lean 36 minutes of 70s-tinged Hard Rock will contain any surprises. What is truly puzzling, however, is the LP’s incredibly odd chronological duality – its first half stands toe-to-toe with the best moments in the band’s catalogue, and its second half is astronomically bland and uninspired.

“The Love That You Give” and the title cut are perhaps the most effective opening one-two punch on a Wolfmother album to date. The former is explosive yet concise as Andrew Stockdale effortlessly channels an early-70s Ozzy Osbourne. The latter is simply larger than life, with an irresistible guitar riff and an appropriately triumphant chorus. The keyboard-laced “Baroness” is another gem, calling to mind the less spacey moments in Blue Oyster Cult’s catalogue.

The band’s crunchy Rock assault is dialed back for the folky ballad “Pretty Peggy”, a tune that’s as anthemic as it is hopelessly romantic. Its slight resemblance to Alternative contemporaries like Mumford & Sons may turn a few heads, but it’s still firmly rooted in the “Going to California” tradition more than anything else. Closing out the first half of Victorious is “City Lights”, a smooth yet upbeat showcase of exuberant Rock and Roll. Stockdale’s vocal harmonies in the chorus are particularly airtight, and producer Brendan O’Brien’s bright, vibrant mix allows the tasteful bass lines to coexist harmoniously with the razor-sharp guitars.

Then, remarkably, as if this superb handful of songs exhausted all of Stockdale’s songwriting chops, Victorious takes a nose dive into its dreadful second half. In terms of memorability, inventiveness, charisma, or any semblance of a dynamic moment, these five tracks offer close to nothing. Promises were made on the album’s outstanding first half that simply couldn’t be kept. The shift is immediately noticeable on “The Simple Life”, which is a satisfying but forgettable affair, redeemed only by a colorful harmonized guitar solo that breaks up the monotony. After the catchy but similarly underwhelming “Best of a Bad Situation”, the LP’s diminished momentum plummets with the utterly lazy “Gypsy Caravan”, which contains the most unimaginative, transparently recycled guitar riff that’s likely to appear on a Rock album in 2016. “Happy Face”, another sludgy Black Sabbath attempt, drones on directionless for its first two and a half torturous minutes, and by the time it picks up its pace – both in terms of tempo and attitude – it’s too little, too late. “Eye of the Beholder” closes the record out with an energetic stomp but another drab, throwaway chorus; at this point, the boisterous swagger of “The Love That You Give” and the title track are barely visible in the rearview mirror.

Perhaps Wolfmother’s revolving door of musicians is its Achilles heel – frontman Andrew Stockdale is essentially a one-man band in the studio, writing and performing everything on Victorious save the drums and occasional keyboards. When it comes to crafting an entire album’s worth of standout Rock music, Stockdale has a hugely demanding task in front of him with each new batch of songs. All things considered, .500 is a commendable batting average, although the record’s two sharply juxtaposed halves are certainly strange. That the track list was knowingly arranged in this fashion is doubtful, but the yin and yang on Victorious is fascinating nevertheless – how even a shining display of excellence like the front half of this record can have a looming shadow not too far behind.

Score: 3/5