October 2019 Album Round Up!

What’s up guys! Another month, another Album Round Up. Below is a quick run-through of all the records I checked out this month:

Alter Bridge – Walk the Sky: Following the acclaimed Metal-tinged Hard Rock of 2013’s Fortress and 2016’s The Last Hero, “Creed plus Myles Kennedy” changed it up for album number six, with mixed results. The uplifting, positive, “zen” (their words) emotional direction of Walk the Sky inspired some thoughtful lyrics, and a profound exploration of existential angst, but the music got a bit “vanilla-fied” in the process, to coin a term. That being said, the band’s experiments with elements of Synthwave represent some of the LP’s notable high points, and hopefully in the future they’ll explore this some more. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Bad Wolves – N.A.T.I.O.N.: I thought this was supposed to be a “Metal supergroup”? The L.A.-based band’s lineup – which includes ex-members of God Forbid, Devildriver, Divine Heresy, etc. – seems to suggest so. Well, I guess not. This is one of the worst and most egregiously pandering “Butt Rock” albums I’ve heard all year. YIKES. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Cigarettes After Sex – Cry: An absolutely mesmerizing second album from one of the very best in the modern Dream Pop movement. This record will become the most indispensable late-night drive soundtrack you never knew you needed in your life. And beneath its ethereal sheen, it’s got quite a visceral and even sexually-charged spirit to it. Getting into this band a few months ago was one of my best decisions of 2019. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

The Devil Wears Prada – The Act: I could never get into The Devil Wears Prada. Better yet, I don’t think I even gave them a fair shake. Maybe it was the “Christian Metalcore” tag that turned me off as a rage-filed 14-year-old. But as Three Days Grace once told mopey depressed teenagers, “it’s never too late”, and that rings true for me here. The Act is not only downright vicious at times, but the tortured lyrics are something to behold, most notably the haunting portrayal of depression on the single “Chemical”. The crushing retrospective longing of “As Kids” is nothing to sneeze at either. The depth of this record really took me by surprise! RECOMMENDED.

Insomnium – Heart Like a Grave: To be fair, there was no way Insomnium was gonna match the brilliance of their 2016 masterpiece Winter’s Gate, but Heart Like a Grave is a substantial drop-off. Tracks like the plodding “Mute is My Sorrow” and the sluggish “And Bells They Toll” weigh down otherwise excellent songwriting on the title track (which pulls off the impressive feat of carrying essentially one melody through most of the song and maintaining interest), the Winter’s Gate-esque “Twilight Trails”, and the dynamic “Pale Morning Star”. Now, do I hold these Melodic Death Metal masters to an unreasonably high standard? Yes I do. This is still a good record, albeit one that I’ll be cherry-picking from rather than revisiting front-to-back. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED.

Jimmy Eat World – Surviving: Album number ten from these Pop-Punk legends is a decent, if uneven, platter of tracks. If you stick with this LP for a couple listens, though, you’ll find a song here or there to come back  to. The most paper-thin and poppy material (“555”, the title cut, “One Mill”) disproportionately populates the beginning of the tracklist, obscuring otherwise classic Jimmy Eat World moments that come a wee bit too late on the back end, like “Recommit” and “Congratulations”. But personally, I’m gonna stick to Clarity and Chase This Light. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Kanye West – Jesus is King: I’m not sure what makes me cringe harder, a bunch of pretentious neckbeards hating on this album for not conforming to their nihilistic  worldview, or religious conservative pundits like Dennis Prager pretending to support Kanye now because it conveniently conforms to theirs. The reaction to Jesus is King has been sickening, especially because we should instead be focusing on the following: the songs here are memorable and well-crafted, the displays of genuine humility, modesty, and self-examination from West are as pleasantly surprising as they are inspirational, and the worthwhile values espoused in these lyrics are urgently necessary in a modern society decimated by an epidemic of loneliness and lack of purpose. This is another landmark moment in Kanye’s career. It’s just a shame everyone chose to witness it with their ideological blinders on. RECOMMENDED.

Mike Posner – Keep Going: Shocked at how much I enjoyed this! After – in Posner’s own words – “losing 2018 to broken heart”, Michigan’s favorite two-hit wonder comes roaring back with his most mature, well-written, and satisfying project to date. Notably enlightened, and dare I say “spiritually-tinged” songs like “Amen”, “God’s Lottery”, and “Slow it Down” show that Posner’s complete breakdown brought him an immense amount of clarity, insight, and inner peace. What a delight to hear. Oh, and his lyricism as an MC reaches a career peak on Keep Going as well. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

A FEW MORE:

Enjoyed:

Danny Brown – U Know What I’m Sayin’? (Hip-Hop)

Exhumed – Horror (Metal)

Fit For an Autopsy – The Sea of Tragic Beasts (Metal)

Lacuna Coil – Black Anima (Rock)

Mayhem – Daemon (Metal)

Wilco – Ode to Joy (Alternative)

1349 – The Infernal Pathway (Metal)

 

Didn’t Enjoy:

Gatecreeper – Deserted (Metal)

Gost – Valediction (Electronic)

Wale – Wow…That’s Crazy (Hip-Hop)

Insomnium – Heart Like a Grave Album Review

Happy Columbus Day everyone! Got another great review for ya. This week I’m digging into the brand new record from Finnish Melodic Death Metal masters Insomnium! Just in case you missed it, here were my thoughts on the title track and lead single a couple weeks ago, and now it’s time for the full review treatment! Unless you somehow go to great lengths to memorize my year-end lists, I will note that the band’s previous LP Winter’s Gate got the number 1 slot in my 2016 Metal list. So how does it’s follow-up compare? Check out the review below:

Insomnium’s “Heart Like a Grave” Music Video

Not since The Lord of the Rings have such ugly men been surrounded by such breath-taking scenery.

Ahead of the release of album number eight next month, Finnish Melodic Death Metal songbirds Insomnium have unleashed the video for its title cut, “Heart Like a Grave”.

Considering I literally gave Winter’s Gate the album of the year in 2016, it’s safe to say that I’m excited for its follow-up. And to my delight as a fan who prefers evolution, “Heart Like a Grave” doesn’t have a ton in common with Winter’s Gate musically. The band’s feet are completely off the throttle tempo-wise as this track eschews blistering blast beats and lightning-fast tremolo guitars in favor of a more reserved, textural approach that dips its toes into a bit of Power Metal.

And the video? God, the footage is gorgeous. It’s a shame that someone always has to die (spoiler alert! as if you actually cared about a music video plot) in every Extreme Metal visual, though. Just let everybody live and fake play their instruments. Your album will sell the exact same guys, don’t worry.

Anyway, Insomnium’s Heart Like a Grave drops October 4th. And I’m definitely planning on reviewing it! Check out the music video for the title track below:

 

 

September 2016 Album Round Up!

Since I was three years old – to put that in context, since BEFORE the world witnessed Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio bang on the Titanic and her subsequent refusal to share a rather spacious floating door, choosing instead to let him die – this was the first non-Summer month that I have not spent in a classroom. That’s almost 20 years of steady structure tossed out the fucking window. It’s almost surreal, but in the immortal words of Blink-182, “I guess this is growing up.” And growing up meant that in September 2016 I was busier than I have ever been, working and interning for absurd hours, scrambling to find time for quality, in-depth listens of all of these new records, and trying to somehow squeeze out a social life and some gym hours. The whole listening-to-new-music thing worked out reasonably well, although the true release mayhem came RIGHT on September 30th, so I’m still catching my breath. But I’ve got a bunch of great stuff to recommend! Enjoy my ramblings, and hope you’re all looking forward to October as much as I am – it’s gonna be fucking STACKED!

Bad Vibrations – A Day To Remember

This Metalcore/Pop-Punk band’s last effort – 2013’s Common Courtesy – is one of my favorite albums ever. So I didn’t expect Bad Vibrations to meet that high water mark. In the end, I’m walking away feeling positive yet slightly underwhelmed. The first half of this LP is packed with some of ADTR’s best material to date, like “Bullfight”, “Naviety” (showcasing their poppier side), and the title track (showcasing their more aggressive side), but there are a few duds and filler tracks in the latter half (“Turn Off the Radio”, “Forgive and Forget”, “We Got This”) weighing it down. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight – Travis Scott

I was a bit late to the Travis Scott party, so the peculiarly titled Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight is the first time I’m experiencing his new music alongside the rest of the world. Scott’s hugely hyped sophomore full-length is not perfect, but it’s PACKED with bangers, and it’s been my go-to party album for the entire month. Particular highlights include “Coordinate”, “Goosebumps”, “Pick Up the Phone”, and “Through the Late Night”, the latter of which is the best thing Kid Cudi has been involved with in over half a decade. Between Birds and Young Thug’s Jeffery project last month, Hip-Hop is incredibly turnt right now. RECOMMENDED

Winter’s Gate – Insomnium 

I haven’t disliked a single album from these Finnish Melodeath masters, but “Winter’s Gate” is special. It’s a conceptual behemoth that meets the highest of Melodic Death Metal standards without ever getting ahead of itself. Along with Be’Lakor’s excellent Vessels LP this past June, Winter’s Gate proves that this style of Metal is as vital as it ever has been. You might see this one again when the time comes for “Best Albums of 2016” discussions. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Natural Causes – Skylar Grey

For her second album as Skylar Grey, the “Love the Way You Lie” songstress took a bold leap from the cookie cutter Pop of 2013’s Don’t Look Down into something much more spacey and ethereal. I was psyched about the transition and wanted more than anything to be blown away by the whole record, but in reality, I fell in love with a handful of tracks and could take or leave the rest. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Yellowcard – Yellowcard

Even though they’re one of my all-time favorites, Yellowcard’s swansong left me indifferent. There are some flashes of the Yellowcard that I grew up loving, but the track list suffers from what I call “ballad syndrome” – of 11 songs, 5 or 6 of them venture into ballad territory. That’s not ok for a Pop-Punk album, or any album for that matter. These slow cuts aren’t terrible, but it makes for a strange and uneven listen. Rather than going out with a bang or a whimper, Yellowcard went out with a polite wave goodbye. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown

On his fourth project, Danny Brown is once again an utterly singular Hip-Hop artist, from his unmistakable delivery, to his slightly avant-garde production, to his eccentric, drug-riddled storytelling. Don’t be fooled by his abrasive persona though; the guy can rap his ass off. Just check the gritty “Lost” or the star-studded “Really Doe”, the latter of which finds Brown holding his own with heavyweights like Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt. On second thought, scratch that “Really Doe” analysis, ‘cause “heavyweight” now describes Danny Brown too – he’s not only at the top of HIS game, he’s one of the most compelling rappers on the planet right now.

Creatures Watching Over the Dead – Charred Walls of the Damned

 Richard Christy, Steve DiGiorgio, Jason Suecof, and Tim “Ripper” Owens fire up their Metal supergroup again for album number three. This is BY FAR my favorite record of theirs. Hearing Ripper’s soaring, melodic vocals over some legitimately heavy riffs is particularly refreshing – I don’t know about you, but I get tired of the same throat-gurgling screams over everything. I love to hear a singer with old school PIPES, and the ex-Judas Priest frontman really brings it here. The melodies don’t stop at Ripper either – the track “Lies” is sent off with an ultra poppy riff and a sugary guitar solo that sounds like a Pop-Punk band got parachuted into a Metal anthem. Elsewhere, shit can get crushingly heavy (“The Soulless”), technically dazzling (Jason Suecof’s harmonized lead in “Tear Me Down”), and even thoughtful (“My Eyes”).The songs aren’t ALWAYS there, but the mastery these veterans exhibit over the genre is a true joy to listen to. RECOMMENDED

The Altar – Banks

Banks sophomore LP is a noticeable improvement over Goddess, her super hyped but slightly underwhelming debut. Plodding moments like “To the Hilt” and “Poltergeist” hurt the track list in its latter stages, but I’ll be damned if there’s aren’t some bonafide Alt-Pop smashes on here. “Gemini Feed” has proven to be a wise choice for a single, and “Trainwreck” continues in a similar vein. “This Is Not About Us” veers more toward the Electro-Pop route, while “Fuck With Myself” contains explicit Hip-Hop nods – the latter a display of swaggering attitude previously absent in Banks’ music. She’s definitely headed in the right direction; in the future, I’d love to see her further explore the edgier side that she began to tap into with The Altar. RECOMMENDED

The Divine Feminine – Mac Miller

Mac Miller’s best album to date is vulnerable, sensual, and loosely conceptual, dealing almost exclusively with love, sex, relationships, and women. Never an MC who could quite carry a full-length on his own, Mac leans on his talented guests with the perfect amount of weight, whether it’s Anderson .Paak on the fun and upbeat “Dang!”, Ty Dolla $ign on the DJ Dahi-produced “Cinderella” (the LP’s best song by far), Kendrick Lamar on the closer “God Is Fair Sexy Nasty”, or his boo thang Ariana Grande on “My Favorite Part”. I am beyond impressed with Mac’s wholehearted commitment to exploring, developing and delivering something totally different from the rest of his catalogue. Love it or hate it, you’re unlikely to hear another Hip-Hop record quite like this one in 2016. RECOMMENDED

Sorceress – Opeth

It’s a crying shame that I haven’t had the time to give this album the full review treatment, but October’s going to be the busiest fucking month of the year and I don’t want to fall behind. It’s only been out for a week, but here are my two cents: if I want Still Life or Blackwater Park Opeth, I can continue to wear out those fucking records to death. I ENCOURAGE stylistic change, as long as the music is up to par. And Sorceress is easily the best of Opeth’s 2010s output – that dramatic, fan-dividing shift in Mikael’s vocal delivery finally feels at home amongst these proggy yet catchy tunes. At the time of the initial transition on 2011’s Heritage, it felt like career suicide, but Sorceress justifies the creative decisions Opeth have made these past few years. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Schmilco – Wilco

Wilco’s tenth album is delivered with the same modest indie spirit that I’ve associated with them since I first heard AM as a 14-year-old. Schmilco is laid back, chill as fuck, and most importantly, it’s folky without those big cheesy pop hooks vacuuming the life out of it (looking at you, Mumford & Sons, how’s it going?). It didn’t knock my world off its axis or anything, but it’s exactly what I anticipated. Can’t be mad at that. RECOMMENDED