Top 5 Mid-Year Hip-Hop Albums of 2017

Hip-Hop is in a weird place in 2017.

Remember that “new generation” of great MCs that’s been endlessly debated about – you know, all those people Kendrick named in his “Control” verse four years ago? Well, they’re not so new anymore. They’re nearly a decade into their careers now. Meanwhile, the genre’s “new faces” could not be a less cohesive bunch; people seem to like Lil’ Yachty ‘cause he’s weird, 21 Savage ‘cause he’s scary, and XXXTenacion ‘cause, well, he’s a SoundCloud rapper that dissed Drake.

What is the SOUND of Hip-Hop in 2017? I have no earthly idea how to answer that question. It’s everything and it’s nothing. “Mumble rap” may be a common contemporary term that’s thrown around, but there’s too much negative connotation associated with it for the style to have much longevity (see also: “ringtone rap”, circa 2007). And “Trap” may loosely describe the sonic backdrop of much of the genre’s mainstream output, but then how would we explain the popularity of industry darlings like Chance the Rapper, Danny Brown, and Joey Bada$$> Adding more confusion to the situation, we can’t forget that Hip-Hop’s elder statesmen – the Jay-Zs, the Eminems, and Nases of the world – are STILL relevant and still breaking the Internet with new music, much of which eschews the sounds of the young guns.

But Hip-Hop is also in a good place in 2017.

It continues to broaden and expand and reinvent itself and if you ask me, it’s as diverse as it has ever been in its near-forty year history. And in 2017 thus far, as it does every year, the genre has done what it does best; it’s offered us some jaw-dropping greatness, and it’s served up some real shit sandwiches (I’m looking at YOU, Machine Gun Kelly). But in this article, we’re gonna stay positive – we’re taking a look at five Hip-Hop albums from the first half of 2017 that I have loved the shit out of.

As always, keep in mind that all of my music commentary is based solely on personal taste; I’m not trying to tell you that these albums are better than other albums, I’m just trying to tell you that you’re stupid if you don’t like them. Just kidding.

It’s all just one dude listening to music and talking about why he likes it. Simple as that.

And with a list such as this one, also keep in mind that I’ve spent very different amounts of time with each of these albums – some of them I’ve lived with for months, and some of them are still relatively new to my life – so this list (and by proxy, the omissions from it) is subject to change as the year progresses. Hope you enjoy these picks and here’s to another five months of great Hip-Hop!

5. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music – 2 Chainz

I have never been a 2 Chainz fan. I have never even made it through an entire 2 Chainz project. His over-the-top, in-your-face braggadocio and all-too-familiar song topics have never appealed to me. But, holy shit. I took a chance with this LP, and “pleasantly surprised” is an understatement. This thing is phenomenal. It’s excessive in all the right places (e.g. the completely unnecessary bass boosts on “Riverdale Road”, which make my car feel like a 747), but manages to have a degree of subtlety as well. 2 Chainz is wildly creative with his flows throughout, and manages to make the tracks with the most predictable guest appearances into the album’s shining moments (the contemplative “Realize” with Nicki Minaj, the euphoric “Blue Cheese”, with the Migos). Not to mention, this album contains the most absurd, hilarious line of 2 Chainz’s career thus far; on “Sleep When U Die”, he spits the following gem: “I got a bank account, got anotha bank account, got anotha bank account.” ‘Nuff said.

4. Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross

Right up there with 2 Chainz in the “Jesus Christ, I never expected THIS!” department, Ricky Rozay came through with a surprisingly dope project this time around. Who would’ve thought that it’d be this motherfucker’s NINTH album that finally won me over? But on Rather You Than Me, Ross balances his usual bravado-filled tall tales with some genuine vulnerability and emotional depth. To be clear, this is far from 808s and Heartbreak, but when Ross – who, by the way, has quietly developed into an impressive MC over the years– dips into his psyche from time to time, it makes for a much more well-rounded listen. Plus, from a production standpoint, he assembles a murderer’s row of some of the best instrumentals 2017 has to offer; luxurious cuts like “Santorini Greece” and the jazzy “Game Ain’t Based on Sympathy” are sprinkled alongside traditional trap bangers like “Dead Presidents” and “Summer Seventeen”, as well as more minimalistic moments like the Nas-assisted “Powers That B”. It all makes for a fluid, easily enjoyable, and consistently engaging 62 minutes. Don’t worry, I’m as surprised as you are. Here is a full review.

3. Captain California – Murs

Every year, Tech N9ne’s powerhouse indie label Strange Music comes through with at least one absolute gem (and by the way, it’s never from Tech N9ne himself– the guy is superbly talented but his projects are bloated as fuck. But I digress.) Last year, it was Rittz’s third record Top of the Line, which placed high on my year end list and I couldn’t shut the fuck up about. This year, it’s veteran LA spitter Murs, whose sixth studio album Captain California delivers everything I look for in Hip-Hop on a silver platter. Aside from checking all the boxes from a technical rapping standpoint, what impresses me most about Murs is his range. This album will be downright goofy one minute – as with the laugh-out-loud opening cut “Lemon Juice”, a little ditty centered on Murs and his guest Curtiss King competing for one female’s attention – and it’ll be heartfelt the next, as with the aptly titled “God Bless Kanye West”, or the touching love song “1,000 Suns”. This LP is likely to end up in the “fuck all of you, this is so underrated!” column for me, so don’t be one of the idiots who sleeps on it!

2. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

 You can go here for some extended thoughts on this album, but I’ll sum it up this way: we are witnessing Hip-Hop history with this guy. How many Hip-Hop artists can you think of that came right out of the gate with FOUR EXCELLENT RECORDS?? Please, enlighten me. Outkast? Sure. DMX? Perhaps. Eric B. and Rakim? I guess, but it’s debatable. Point made: it’s a short fucking list. While DAMN. might not be as intricate or conceptual as Lamar’s universally-acclaimed previous LP, To Pimp a Butterfly, what I love about this one is how emotionally raw it is. This is as depressed, anxious, and conflicted as Kendrick has ever sounded, and that’s saying a lot since he’s never exactly branded himself as Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky. But this record is so raw and so real, and I relate to Kendrick on a more visceral level this time around. That, and he has continued to push himself as a wholistic MC, upping the ante with his flows, his versatile vocal inflections, and his increasingly complex rhyme structures.

  1. All the Beauty in This Whole Life – Brother Ali

 Aptly titled, this album makes me happy to be alive. Not that it’s a shining beacon of optimism or anything – these songs tackle suicide, pornography addiction, racial inequality, and some of Alis darkest personal struggles – but hearing this man put a Hip-Hop song together is truly remarkable. Brother Ali oozes passion, sincerity and raw emotion out of every last breath of these 61 minutes, and as a listener it’s contagious. You can’t help but be inspired by the uplifting single “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)”, or be moved to tears by the emotional weight of “Dear Black Son” or “Pray For Me”, or be challenged by food-for-thought tracks like “Before They Called you White”. Not to mention, Ant from Atmosphere provides a gorgeous sonic backdrop, and Ali, being simply one of the most gifted rhymers on the planet, knocks all fifteen tracks out of the park. If you haven’t yet, please get the hell off this blog and go listen to this album. Or watch my review. Thank you and have a nice day.

June 2017 Album Round Up!

Wow, we’re halfway through 2017?! It feels like just yesterday that I was at a Virginia Tech New Year’s party making tasteless school shooter jokes.

What a crazy year 2017 is so far. I’ve probably been the busiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. Psychology says that busier people are happier, but I think the jury’s still out on that! I wouldn’t have it any other way though. The older I get, the more the whole “free time” thing starts to feel toxic to me. We’ve got such finite time to do everything we wanna do, so unless I’m hanging out with friends I always have to be working on something. Even if it’s re-listening to the first three Carcass records for the billionth time trying to rank how much I like them.

By the way, if reading this Round Up just isn’t enough for you, and you need more Panny in your life, you should definitely check out my guest appearance on the Surreal Resolution podcast, where I participated in….well, a June 2017 Album Round Up! (ya boy starts rambling at the 01:24:00 mark).

For real though, this was a fantastic month for new music! If you’re a Metalhead, there was Goatwhore, Dying Fetus, and Iced Earth. If you’re a Hip-Hop head, there was 2 Chainz and Vince Staples. If you like Pop music, Lorde dropped a gem. Pop-Punkers got some new music from All Time Low, indie folk got some Portugal the Man….we’re all sitting pretty right now. So thank you, music industry. You don’t always let me down.

 

 Last Young Renegade – All Time Low

 Having skipped over these Pop-Punkers’ last couple outings, I decided to pop my head back in and check out Last Young Renegade, their seventh album. And while it’s a pretty lightweight, run-of-the-mill Pop-Punk-but-mostly-Pop affair, there are a few exceptional standouts that make it worthwhile, like the hungover rockstar identity crisis of “Life of the Party”, or the Tegan and Sara collab “Ground Control”, one of my favorite songs of the year. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 BEAUTIFUL THUGGER GIRLS – Young Thug

 He may be one of the most polarizing figures in Hip-Hop right now, but regardless of how you feel about him, you can’t deny that Young Thug has been fun to watch. BEAUTIFUL THUGGER GIRLS is the eccentric cross-dressing MC’s much-discussed “singing album”. Although the cover art is ominously reminiscent of Lil’ Wayne’s disastrous “rock album” Rebirth, BEAUTIFUL THUGGER GIRLS is actually awesome! I was shocked that I liked it, but Thugger’s playful experimentation and impressive sense of melody carry these tunes effortlessly. Cut out a few filler tracks, and this would’ve been one of my favorite albums of the year. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED 

Incorruptible – Iced Earth

 On their twelfth studio album, Jon Schaffer and Co. are still churning out quality classic-leaning Metal with an extra Thrashy kick to it. This record can get downright ferocious (“Seven Headed Whore”), but the band can bring it down for some powerful melodic moments as well (“The Veil”). Definitely give this a listen if you’re on the hunt for vintage-sounding Metal with heavier, more modern production. RECOMMENDED

 Wrong One to Fuck With – Dying Fetus

 The first release in five years from these Death Metal titans is as relentless and crushing as the genre gets. My favorite thing about Dying Fetus is how they balance different shades of aggression – this record is super noodl-y and tech-y in spots (check the middle of a song like “Seething with Disdain”, for instance), but it’s also got a ‘90s Death Metal stomp at times (“Panic Amongst the Herd”), it’s got slam parts, and perhaps my favorite Dying Fetus signature, the Hardcore-influenced mosh riffs. One of my favorite Metal albums of the year so far. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Evolve – Imagine Dragons

 Though an improvement on 2015’s Smoke + Mirrors (which I found to be an uninspired dud), Imagine Dragon’s third record still leaves a lot to desired. The choruses are repetitive, the singles (“Believer” and “Thunder”) are unbearably corny, and even though this LP was supposedly born out of a period of emotional turmoil for frontman Dan Reynolds, the heartache doesn’t translate into something I can connect with. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

 Pretty Girls Like Trap Music – 2 Chainz

 “I got a bank account/got anotha bank account/got anotha bank account,” boasts 2 Chainz in the single greatest line of his career. Kidding aside, Pretty Girls Like Trap Music is the unexpected artistic peak of this man’s career. It takes everything the Trap genre strives for – banging beats, swaggering flows, hard-hitting hooks, and a rugged, hyper-masculine aesthetic – and rolls it into one record. I’ve never been a 2 Chainz fan, but he sold me with this one. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Heart Break – Lady Antebellum

 Every month I try to give a couple Country records a chance in the hopes that I’ll be pleasantly surprised. A couple Mondays ago I was mowing my lawn and needed a soundtrack, so I picked this one. To my delight, I enjoyed a lot of what I heard. It’s definitely cut from the same cloth as a lot of the Pop-Country that I’ve been bashing for years, but the male-female vocal interplay adds a little extra, and I’ve found myself hypocritically enjoying simple, hook-heavy cuts like “The Stars” and “Heart Break”. RECOMMENDED

 Return of the Don – Kool G Rap

 At nearly fifty years old, Kool G Rap proves once again on Return of the Don that he is one of the most vicious MCs to ever touch a mic. Though not as narrative-driven as some of his classic ‘90s output like Live and Let Die or Roots of Evil, G Rap still brings his signature brand of ultra-violent technical rhyming over some the of the best beats of his career courtesy of MoSS, who produced the entire thing. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 Hydrograd – Stone Sour

 So frontman Corey Taylor went ON AND ON AND ON in the press about this being a big departure for Stone Sour in that it’s a “straight ahead rock and roll album”. He’s kind of right – parts of this album really fulfill that promise, and others are an awkward mish-mash of Rock and Metal elements. But despite that, and the fact that the track list takes a nosedive in quality towards the end, Hydrograd has enough highs – the anthemic title track, the moody mid-tempo number “The Witness Trees”, the lovely steel-guitar tinged ballad “St. Marie” – to outweigh its lows. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 Boomiverse – Big Boi

 Even though Big Boi is one of my favorite MCs of all time (a while back I TALKED ABOUT how important his first solo album Sir Lucious Left Foot is to me), I had a tough time getting into this one. I got soured early on it by a cringeworthy Adam Levine appearance on “Mic Jack” (for God’s sake, keep this man AWAY from Hip-Hop!) and the album’s lack of strong hooks only gets more apparent from there. Big Boi’s rapping is still on point – great at times, on tracks like “Order of Operations” – but I don’t find any of the songs sticking with me. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Vengeful Ascension – Goatwhore

Woodstock – Portugal. The Man

Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 – Calvin Harris

Unparalleled Universe – Origin

Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples

Melodrama – Lorde

DON’T LIKE:

Hopeless Fountain Kingdom – Halsey

Wolves – Rise Against

Witness – Katy Perry

Grateful – DJ Khaled

 

May 2017 Album Round Up!

Just like that, Summer’s upon us again! Pretty crazy to think that exactly a year ago today, I was writing about Drake and DJ Khaled’s new single “For Free”. Feels like a fucking decade ago.

If I recall, “For Free” ended up being one of summer sixteen’s core club bangers, as I totally WENT OUT ON A LIMB to predict. What a courageous music writer I am.

And a year later here I am, still pumping out these monthly round ups for an audience that’s expanding at a not-so-exponential rate. But the rapid growth that IS surprising me is how much I love doing this. It’s amazing to me that I can spend so much time working on something that generates zero income and have more and more fun doing it as the months go by. I guess that’s why they call it a passion. And I guess that’s why my parents always told me to “get a real job”.

May was an interesting month. It was really light on the Metal, and a good chunk of this year’s worst music (see below) was released as well. But as always, I found a lot to latch onto, and I hope you’ll enjoy some of these albums as much as I did!

Ether – B.o.B.

Still standing by his early work, I’m always hoping that our favorite Pop-Rap Flat-Earther is going to deliver something great. He’s certainly got it in him, as showcased once again on standouts from this album like the drugged-out banger “Xantastic” or the politically-charged “Peace Piece”, the former a collaboration with Young Thug, and the latter with Big K.R.I.T. (did I mention B.o.B. was versatile as hell?). Unfortunately though, Ether falls apart in the second half with a series of bland tracks that range from half-assed club attempts (“4 Lit”, “Tweakin’”) to excessive melodrama (“Big Kids”). Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

After Laughter – Paramore

Wow! These rockers – led by the feisty Hayley Willliams – have given me, without a doubt, the most pleasant surprise of 2017! On After Laughter, the band completely abandon their Pop-Punk/Pop-Rock fusion for a throwback to ‘80s pop. Like, seriously, the beginning of “Rose-Colored Boy” sounds straight out of Beverly Hills Cop or something. The beautiful twist, though, is how the super pessimistic lyrics sit in stark contrast with these peppy instrumentals. There is so much pain and suffering behind this album…that’s what makes it so compelling. I love the message of a song like “Idle Worship”, where Hayley Williams shies away from being put up on a pedestal just because she’s a famous musician. And the stripped-down ballad “26”? That shit makes me cry. If there’s ONE ALBUM you check out from this month, it should be this one! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

All the Beauty in This Whole Life – Brother Ali

This legendary indie rapper returned from five years of radio silence with what is easily one of the best Hip-Hop albums of the entire year. I can’t remember the last time a rapper made me feel such strong emotions. Lead single “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)” is the ultimate uplifting anthem, while autobiographical cuts like “Pray for Me” and “Out of Here” – the former dealing with Ali’s social struggles as a child born with albinism, the latter with the suicides of his father and grandfather – are heartbreaking. Meanwhile, racially-charged moments like “Dear Black Son” and “Before They Called You White” really make you think. He does it all while still delivering intricate rhymes, and doing so over a set of wonderful instrumentals courtesy of Ant from Atmosphere. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Tremendum – Hate

Despite being dogged by comparisons to their Polish counterparts Behemoth for their entire career, this Blackened Death Metal outfit has always walked a delicate line between the two genres that make up their sound. That is, until they decided to throw us for a loop with THIS ALBUM and go completely Black Metal! I’m not sure what was more of a surprise to me…that they made this ballsy shift in their sound this late into their career, or that it went over so well! I love Hate as a (mostly) Black Metal band. There’s still the Death Metal production, there’s still the blast beats that have their origins in Florida instead of Norway or Scandinavia, but the music is a lot more atmospheric and a lot less riff-driven. Tunes like “Sea of Rubble” really have that Bathory MARCH to them! Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Everybody – Logic

Despite being a fan of this Maryland rapper’s debut album Under Pressure, I will continue to point out how overrated he is. Even though I love his positive energy, his zeal for the genre, and his dedication to his craft, people big him up WAY too much. When you listen closely, his rhymes are pretty basic – he just speeds them up to make them sound complex. The opening scheme of this album is religion/prison/cracker/blacker. I don’t know why people think this guy is so good. Not to mention, his flows are borrowed from all his contemporaries. And this LP specifically is by far Logic’s worst. It’s incredibly corny. Just listen to those ad-libs on the anti-suicide song “1-800-273-8255” (“WHO CAN RELATE?? WOO!”), or the hook on the title track. Which, let’s be clear, the title track is not about being “inclusive” as much as it’s just Logic whining about being biracial. Oh, and Logic can’t sing either. He shouldn’t do that. I like a lot of 6ix’s beats on here though! NOT RECOMMENDED

 Bloom – Machine Gun Kelly

This is the worst piece of shit I have heard all year. “Heard” as in taken semi-seriously – I’m sure there are worse albums out there that I wouldn’t ever bother with. Here were my thoughts on the singles….and it got even worse from there. Listening to this white-washed Pop-Rap garbage is something I will regret until my dying day. I couldn’t even muster up the energy to give it a full review on YouTube. I just wanted it out of my life. I guess I’ll leave you with one somewhat constructive criticism: if there’s one hole that REALLY sinks this ship, it’s MGK’s unnecessary forays into singing on tracks like “Go For Broke”, “At My Best”, “Let You Go”, and the horrific country attempt “Rehab”. NOT RECOMMENDED

Poison the Parish – Seether

Believe it or not, this album actually has some pretty cool moments! The mopey Butt Rock thing doesn’t always sit well with me – the beginning of “Against the Wall”, for example makes me cringe…”I WAS BOOORNNN TO FLLLYYY AWAYYY” – but I think Seether nails down their demographic exceptionally well on here. Tracks like “Betray and Degrade” and “Saviours” have a razor sharp hooks, and are great for a semi-mindless listen while you’re driving. Even though I’m not a “fan” per se, having seen this band and gone through their discography, I’d like to say this is a crowning achievement for them. So maybe give it a listen out of curiosity! RECOMMENDED

 From a Room: Volume 1 – Chris Stapleton

In addition to the new offering from the Zac Brown Band, this was another Country album that I dug this month! This is Stapleton’s follow-up to his hugely acclaimed 2015 solo debut Traveller, and I’ve found his music really easy to get into as, well, not exactly a Country aficionado. Highlights include the bluesy “Them Stems”, the outlaw-tinged “Up to No Good Livin’” (LOVE the slide guitar in that one!), and the spare, intimate ballad “Either Way”. RECOMMENDED

One More Light – Linkin Park

God help us. I tried to be open-minded, I swear. Since I’m not a Linkin Park fan at ALL anymore – even their old stuff hasn’t aged well for me – I actually found it quite easy to go into this Pop crossover attempt with an open mind. But as I explain here (to the tune of over 600 views right now, which is a lot for me!), I found most of this material to be incredibly lightweight, surface level, and trend-hopping all over the place. LP took an L with this one. NOT RECOMMENDED

In a World of Fear – Scale the Summit

One of the most popular instrumental Prog Metal acts on the planet, Scale the Summit have continued to flourish since I saw them open up for Between the Buried and Me back in 2010. I’m so pleasantly surprised that things are working out for them, ‘cause I really wasn’t sure if there was a viable market for what they do. But guitar geeks are a passionate bunch, and they’ll likely eat this album up with all of its stop-start, odd-time rhythms, and impossibly intricate interplay. Unfortunately though, I’m not the right audience for it. A song like “Astral Kids”, despite having so much inventive, virtuosic guitar playing, just sounds like a Berklee School of Music jam room to me. Which isn’t inherently a bad thing! It’s just not what I personally gravitate towards (even as a guitar nerd myself). I still need “hooks” of some kind – and Scale the Summit DID have hooks on early favorites like “The Great Plains” – but there’s just not enough memorable parts on this album to keep me coming back to it for more than the “wow, they can play their asses off!” factor. NOT RECOMMENDED

The World Ablaze – God Dethroned

In a month where Metal felt as scarce as STD-free pussy in a whorehouse, these Dutch veterans delivered a solid slab of no-frills Extreme Metal. This records boasts some pretty memorable riffs (exhibit A: the demonic intro to Thrash/Death Metal hybrid “Annihilation Crusade”), it doesn’t try to be too fancy or experimental, and best of all, its production retains a slightly raw but powerful sound. Modern Death Metal has gotten so fucking pristine and robotic sounding that it drives me nuts , so it was refreshing to hear an LP that was still beautifully mixed but had a little humanness, a little UMPH behind it. RECOMMENDED

T-Wayne – T-Pain & Lil’ Wayne

When T-Pain tweeted – completely out of the blue – that he was releasing a bunch of shelved T-Pain/Lil’ Wayne collabos from 2009, the Internet rightfully lost their shit. “These are lost gems from when the two of them were in their prime!” we all said to ourselves. And whether these eight songs would’ve been ill in 2009, we’ll never know, but in 2017, I’m not into it at all. The first unpleasant surprise is that T-Pain raps a bunch on here – his flow on the Willy Wonka-sampling “Listen to Me” is clunky as hell. The second unpleasant surprise is that the wackest bar of Lil’ Wayne’s career was actually recorded in 2009, during his supposed prime. Who knew? But the line “She was like Damn Damn Damn ‘cause I hit her with the wham wham wham” is certainly something special. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

You’re Welcome – Wavves

Neva Left – Snoop Dogg

This Old Dog – Mac DeMarco

Welcome Home – Zac Brown Band

DON’T LIKE:

Crooked Teeth – Papa Roach

Louder Harder Faster – Warrant

Revelation – Oceano

 

 

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

Machine Gun Kelly’s “Bloom”: Four Singles Deep

This Friday, Cleveland’s own Machine Gun Kelly (a.k.a. Richard Colson Baker) will drop his third studio album Bloom. I’m more excited for my first colonoscopy.

It’s been so fucking amusing to watch MGK, a guy who at one point was so anti-industry that it practically defined him – whether it was his independent mixtape come-up or his incessant whining in the press about how “the industry just doesn’t want to see me win” (for examples, watch this, or this, a little more recently, this, or even this)– now thrusting himself shamelessly into the center of it. Like, the Top 40 center of it.

Our first taste of Bloom was “Bad Things”, a duet with Fifth Harmony’s Camila Cabello and a shameless crossover grab with a calculated sexual “edginess”. Not surprisingly, it has since peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Shockingly enough, after being given a few more unsavory samples of what this LP is gonna sound like, I’m no longer bothered by “Bad Things”. ‘Cause these other three singles….holy shit. See, now I have a morbid curiosity about this album ‘cause I need to find out how deep the rabbit hole goes. But at this moment, I’ll just say a few cathartic words about what we’ve already heard.

Bad Things (feat. Camila Cabello)

 Since I can’t escape it, I’ve learned to deal with this one. And I’ll even give it this: the instrumental, courtesy of The Futuristics, is an impressive blend of Pop balladry with subtle Hip-Hop isms like Trap-style snare claps and hi-hats. Camila Cabello’s voice isn’t too bad either, but her generic performance just gives off an any-singer-in-the-world-could-fill-this-slot type vibe. As I alluded to earlier, my main issue with this track is its gimmicky sexual edge. It taps into lust as a commodity but makes no attempt to cleverly explore it. I suppose MGK has a couple lines about nail scratching or whatever, but it all comes off so fucking forced. Listening to this, I also wonder how the hell MGK could feel fulfilled as an MC making such watered-down music.

At My Best (feat. Hailee Steinfeld)

 This is where things really started to worry me. I actually wrote about it here, but I don’t remind repeating myself when it comes to cathartic rants on shitty music. With “At My Best”, MGK plays the role of Worst Motivational Coach in History with cringe-inducing bars like “life is about making mistakes/it’s also about trying to be great” or “this song is for anybody who feels like I did/never the cool kid”. What’s unfortunate is that in his underdog days, even MGK’s corniest inspirational tracks at least came off genuine. But this is so robotic and unimaginative. I’m all for the message here – and if it helps even one depressed teenager feel marginally better, I’m with it – but I’m struggling to see how these vague self-affirmations and trite “life is…” talk are gonna make an impact on anyone.

Trap Paris (feat. Quavo & Ty Dolla $ign)

Ah, the turn up song! Did you know MGK likes to party??? I know, me neither dude, it’s so sick! Maybe one day if I do enough drugs I can be like him!

All kidding aside, this is my favorite of the bunch. The beat bangs, and Quavo from the Migos continues his winning streak with another hot feature. But hearing MGK just go through the motions with that same lifeless triplet flow as every other Trap MC is uninspiring. And the whole “I’m a crazy white boy who does a lot of drugs” schtick is the reason that I stopped listening to his music when I turned 20. I grew out of it.

Let You Go

Perhaps the single worst song I have heard in 2017. Here we get an auto-tuned MGK fronting his own little synthetic Pop-Punk band. I don’t understand – who the fuck are these yes men sitting in the studio with him going, “yeah Richard, this sounds rockin’ man!” There’s no justification for this other than casting a line out to radio listeners who was born in 2005. Which, I’m not gonna lie, it might work. But hopefully not without some deserved backlash.

I’d imagine there are a couple thousand people out there who are hearing these singles, looking at the “Lace Up” tattoos they got when they were 16, and realizing for the first time just how permanent tattoos really are. I can’t say I’ve been a Machine Gun Kelly “fan” past the age of 19, but as a lover of music it hurts to watch this type of artistic deterioration in the name of the almighty dollar. To be clear, I never use the term “sell out”, because as long as the music’s genuine, every artist has the right to chase a hit. But songs like these four? That’s a different story. I guess we’ll see when the full album comes out on Friday, but don’t expect to hear from me. I’ll be looking around for anything but this.

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

 

 

St. Patty’s Day Track Round Up

So last Friday was St. Patty’s Day. For me, it was just another Friday – some new music came out, I listened to it, I went to work, I came home, neglected my social obligations, and listened to obscure Metal albums that nobody gives a fuck about. But for some other geniuses out there, local drinking establishments got a nice payday off their desperate need for an “excuse” or an “occasion” to be alcoholics. Look, if you want to get fucked up and escape from your miserable existence for a while, be my guest. But don’t pretend like this is a fucking legitimate holiday. Even if you’re Irish.

Ok, Part 1/1,000,000 of my St. Patty’s Day Rant over. Now, here are my thoughts on some of the biggest tracks released on the most pointless “holiday” of the year.

“At My Best (feat. Hailee Steinfeld)” – Machine Gun Kelly

I swear to God, if I had the cash I’d scramble together a team of the best, Jewiest lawyers I could find and sue Machine Gun Kelly for false advertising. Suffice to say, in this song MGK is not exactly “at his best”. What a fucking bore. Mind-numbingly basic rhyme schemes, dime-a-dozen pasted-in pop hook, hollow self-affirmations….when he delivers cringe-inducing lines like “life is about making mistakes/it’s also about trying to be great” or “this song is for anybody who feels like I did/never the cool kid”….it becomes clear that I would NOT want MGK as my motivational coach. “At My Best” is an incredibly poor excuse for an uplifting, “inspirational song”, something that in the beginning of his career felt genuine but now just feels calculated, robotic, and commodified. NOT RECOMMENDED

“Good Life” – G-Eazy & Kehlani

I gotta say, when placed alongside MGK’s latest lightweight dud, G-Eazy looks like fucking Big Pun here. Joking aside, there’s a bit of surgical rhyming going on here, especially in the second verse when Mr. Eazy sails smoothly through patterns “toast to success/broke and distressed/open my chest/hope for the best”. Even though I’ve always criticized this guy’s music for being bland, generic, and as non-essential as non-essential gets, you HAVE to give him one thing – he comes across incredibly likable. Laid back and easy going, but sincere and hardworking…I’ve never met the guy but this how his personality comes through in his bars. And on this particular track, the stadium-ready hook from Kehlani is totally passable and will probably make for one of the stronger tracks on the Fate of the Furious soundtrack. RECOMMENDED

“Feels Like Summer” – Weezer

Almost a year removed from their excellent return-to-form with the White Album last April, these veteran alt-Rockers are back! And, it’s disappointing. For me, what makes this track a let down is how the crunchy guitars have been replaced by lifeless pop production. It couldn’t get more summer-y than “(Girl We Got a) Good Thing” and “California Kids” anyway, but this track tries to manufacture its way into Warm California Weather Anthem. And it fails. NOT RECOMMENDED

“Battle Symphony” – Linkin Park

So this is single numero dos from Linkin Park’s forthcoming One More Light album. I’ve yet to listen to “Heavy” – all I know is that a lot of people fucking hated it. Well, maybe when I get around to “Heavy” I’ll be the ol’ devil’s advocate, but I’m definitely on the hate bandwagon with “Battle Symphony”. I was shocked when the opening of this track kicked in and there were all these cheesy synths – the song felt like a nightmarish fusion of Imagine Dragons and The Chainsmokers. I suppose the chorus is kind of catchy, but aside from those six notes (Bat-tle Sym-pho-nee-eee), the song is so forgettable. NOT RECOMMENDED

“My Corner (feat. Lil’ Wayne)” – Raekwon

Based on this, I’ll definitely be checking out Raekwon’s new LP The Wild. In the first verse, the Wu-Tang OG makes it perfectly clear that he still murks 80 percent of the new crop of younger MCs. His raspy bars still carry that same weight that they did in the mid-90s, even if the music itself is less vital (Lil Wayne’s appearance is fairly standard, as is the production, which sounds like something Wayne, Rick Ross, Meek Mill, or any G-Unit affiliate would jump on.) Hopefully The Wild will give old school heads something to use those Fire Emojis on, ‘cause I know Drake’s new project sure isn’t! RECOMMENDED

“On the Come Up (feat. Big Sean)” – Mike Will Made-It

Nah. I don’t think Big Sean’s overly hyped-up yelling marries all that well with the operatic vocal sample in the beat. I just always find it funny how Sean delivers his lyrics with this brash, dramatic emphasis as if he’s dropping one mindblowing bar after another. The way his voice inflects on this track, you’d think he’s dropping the verse of the century. But his rhymes are actually REALLY average. I enjoyed some of what he had to say on I Decided, but this one is not doing it for me. NOT RECOMMENDED

“Animal” – Trey Songz

Despite these atrocious lyrics being a laundry list of every corny sexual innuendo on the face of the planet – Trey compares his penis to an anaconda, then a banana, then a boomerang, and then compares the vagina in question to forbidden fruit, a monkey, and SURPRISE, a pussycat – those chromatic guitar chords in the pre-chorus are so fucking sexy. They make everything else tolerable. The raunchy club beat that surrounds them is also hard-hitting and effective. I have to give it to Trey Songz here; depending on America’s tolerance for this kind of filthy sexual content in Pop music (I mean, Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” did squeak through), this could be a hit. RECOMMENDED

 

 

February 2017 Album Round Up!

Wow, we’ve arrived at the First Anniversary of this segment! When I decided to write a post last March recapping all the records I was bumping in February 2016, I had no idea this was going to be a thing. But a year later, it’s become something I look forward to every month. It forces me to point my ears in all directions, and really think CRITICALLY about what I’m hearing, even if I’m not in “full review” mode.

I can only imagine that in another year, when we have our two-year anniversary (whooaaa things are getting serious. I hope all the sex hasn’t dried up by then), I’ll still be cranking these out the same way I am today.

And given that we’ve hit this big milestone, it’s only fitting that I add something new! As you might’ve guessed, I listen to a lot more than 8 – 12 albums every month. But just because I’m too lazy to write about all of them in descriptive detail doesn’t mean I shouldn’t let my feelings be known! So I’ve added a section to these Round Ups where I give a basic “like” or “don’t like” verdict on another batch of the month’s releases….with zero explanation. I guess it’ll be up to you to listen to ‘em and figure out my reasons for your own damn self!

But if you’ve checked out any of these Round Ups so far, thank you so much for your support! Hopefully I’ve turned you on to (or helped you avoid) at least one new album you otherwise might’ve missed. That’s all I’m trying to do here. It’s not rocket science. So if that happened for any of my readers, I couldn’t be happier; this thing is a success.

DROGAS Light – Lupe Fiasco

After 2015’s stunning conceptual project Tetsuo & Youth, Chi town’s most pretentious wordsmith takes an infuriating nosedive into half-witted commercial Hip-Hop. This album was a colossal disappointment for me. I don’t understand why Lupe still feels the need to make Pop-Rap ditties like “Pick Up the Phone” after he was trashed for making an album full of them (2011’s Lasers). In all fairness, DROGAS Light isn’t Lasers Part 2 – tracks like “NGL” and “Made in the USA” have more of a Trap vibe than anything else – but whatever it is, it’s equally uninteresting. In fact, it’s my least favorite Lupe project to date. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Suicide Silence – Suicide Silence

Modern Deathcore frontrunners Suicide Silence decided to shake things up for album number five, bringing in famed Nu Metal producer Ross Robinson and drastically altering their sound. Hey, I’m all for adventurousness – in fact, that’s the only reason I checked this album out. The only problem? It’s one of the worst pieces of shit I have ever heard. Eddie Hermida’s clean “singing” is about as easy to listen to as a Sandy Hook conspiracy theory. What makes things worse is Hermida’s patronizing, dismissive responses to any criticism of this album, claiming that anyone who doesn’t like it “just doesn’t get it” or is “full of hatred” or whatever. He’s like the fucking Donald Trump of shitty Nu Metal. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Flying Micronatal Banana – King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

These guys are quickly becoming favorites of mine! This record in particular is an inventive blend of Psychedelic Rock, and Alternative with free-flowing, exploratory musicianship that keeps things interesting all the way through the track list. The eerie hookiness of a cuts like “Sleep Drifter” and “Melting” has made this the most addicting listen of any LP this month. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Prisoner – Ryan Adams

One of the most prolific songwriters in all of music came through with a set of painfully relatable tunes that center primarily on heartbreak and loss. Whether or not he intended it to be, it’s the ultimate breakup album. On the musical side of things, the balance between crunchy Heartland Rock, Folk-Rock balladry, and dashes of country is gracefully executed . And I have to particularly praise the impossibly gorgeous clean guitar tones that Ryan achieves throughout this entire thing – they make it worth the listen all on their own. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

I Decided. – Big Sean

Upside: with I Decided, Big Sean gave us his strongest project to date, featuring well-thought out concepts, an uncharacteristic amount of introspection, and some familiar clever word-play. Downside: the guy is still churning out horribly generic, Drake-biting songs like “Bounce Back” and “Moves”. Upside: with the sweet chick-swooping ballad “Jump Out the Window” and the stunning “Bigger Than Me”, Sean gave us not only HIS best two songs to date, but two of the best songs of the year. Downside: at one point, he rhymes “Channing Tatum” with “J. J. Abrams” and “Jason Statham”. Ugh. Very frustrating. But like I said, this is his best work to date, and I look forward to what the Detroit spitter does next. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Torment – Six Feet Under

 While there’s nothing outwardly WRONG with the 12th outing from these Death Metal veterans, it’s so painfully meat-and-potatoes that I’m gonna have to pass over it. Which, that more has to do with MY tastes than anything else – it’s more a “me” thing than a “them” thing. But the dumbed-down riffs on a song like “Knife Through the Skull” are mind-numbing for me (who knew ex-Cannibal Corpse frontman Chris Barnes would sing a song called “Knife Through the Skull”? What a plot twist!). I do really enjoy the track “Bloody Underwear” – it brings a bit of a Hardcore mosh sensibility, and it’s a lot of fun! (though the supposedly violent title could just be referring to his special lady’s time of the month…..just saying). Bottom line: if you like your Death Metal stripped to the bone and ultra groovy, you might dig this, but – with as little pretentiousness as possible – it’s just a bit simple for me. NOT RECOMMENDED

Chief – Jidenna

The man behind “Classic Man” proves that he’s anything but a one-hit wonder. On Chief, he’s versatile as hell, one minute pulling together a song like “Trampoline” – the ultimate soundtrack for a private dance at a strip club – and the next minute, commanding your attention with clever, posturing bars on “Long Live the Chief”. And smooth melodies abound, whether it’s the aforementioned “Trampoline”, or it’s the slick balladry of “Bambi”, or the exotic “Adaora”. The melting pot production is worthy of mention too – The Let Out” is like a DS2 Future/DJ Mustard mash-up, “Safari is a R&B/Hip-Hop mixture that The Weeknd would crush, “2 Points” features some punchy horns, “Long Live the Chief” is electro minimalism that oddly works. If only he had left the obligatory post-“One Dance” dancehall song off (“Little Bit More”). But I’ll forgive it, ‘cause this is one promising debut. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Grinding Wheel – Overkill

 The legendary East Coast thrashers followed up 2014’s exceptional White Devil Armory with a record that’s significantly less exceptional, but still passable. This time around, the riffs just felt a bit less punchy and exciting, and the tracks dragged on and on for unnecessary lengths (similar to my gripes with the new Metallica album), which left me feeling underwhelmed. There’s still some bonafide rippers though, like the opener “Mean, Green, Killing Machine”, or “Our Finest Hour”, which has a couple devastating riffs and some shrieking vocals from frontman Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Gelato – Young Dolph

The only noteworthy moment on this project is the Yo Gotti diss track (“Play Wit Yo Bitch”), which I have to at least commend for the DIRECT, very UN-subliminal nature of the insults, as basic and schoolyard as they are. And one more track I might come back to is “On the River”, because A) “fucked her on the river” is such a hilarious refrain, and B) the beat is HARD. Other than that, Gelato is one of my least favorite Hip-Hop projects I’ve heard this year. It’s got every stereotype that non-Rap fans gleefully shit on – posturing, smoking weed, banging bitches, and of course posturing about smoking weed and banging bitches. Wasn’t anything for me here, especially when Dolph’s rival Yo Gotti brought such FIRE with CM9 recently. NOT RECOMMENDED

Origins – Mutiny Within

The Little Metal Band That Could is still chugging along six years since being dropped from Roadrunner Records due to the disappointing commercial performance of their self-titled debut. I have loved this band since day one – their blend of melodic, keyboard-driven European Metal with the riff-tastic Metalcore of their American counterparts made them the band I wanted to be IN growing up. And Origins, their third LP, turned out to be their best yet! The album effortlessly sways between noodling technicality and accessible – dare I say, slightly Poppy – hooks. It’s probably not for everyone, but it feels tailored EXACTLY to my tastes. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Plato O Plomo – Fat Joe & Remy Ma

So Joey Crack and Remy Ma decided to follow up their vernacular-defining mega-hit “All the Way Up” with a full album,. On Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club, the two emcees deemed the project a “complete masterpiece” and I strongly disagree. It’s full of a lot of empty boasts, standard gangsta rap bars, and the occasional hilariously clumsy sexism (like the beginning of “Go Crazy”), or lyrically challenged rhyme scheme (Fat Joe rhymes “Narcos” with “Pablo” on “Spaghetti”). There are a couple beats go hard, like the menacing “Swear to God”, or the riled up “Cookin”, but nothing to see here, really. NOT RECOMMENDED

A Few More

Like:

Atonement – Immolation (Death Metal)

The Breaker – Little Big Town (Country)

The Feminine: Act II – Anna Wise

Fin – Syd (R & B)

Drunk – Thundercat (Jazz Fusion)

Dislike:

NAV – NAV (Hip-Hop)

HNDRXX – Future (Hip-Hop, R & B)

 

 

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.