November 2017 Album Round Up!

Greetings, fellow music fans of the (still “neutral” for now) Internet! Welcome to my second-to-last Album Round Up of 2017! As I type this, I’m already deep into the hours and hours of fierce internal debate that I pour into List…..ok, look. My first instinct was to write something about “List Season”, because naturally, I’ve been gleefully combing through 2017’s release calendar compiling those “best of” lists that consume all of my Decembers. But knowing myself as well as I do, I had this funny feeling that I had made some equally dumb comment about “List Season” at this time last year, and sure enough, I was right. And since I’m not a member of AC/DC, I don’t get some sort of pathological satisfaction out of constantly repeating myself. So maybe I just won’t acknowledge “List Season” this time around. Although….since I’ve now used the term “List Season” four times in this very paragraph, I guess I’m kinda committed.

In all seriousness, there’s a reason List Season is my favorite time of year. With the exception of my “Worst of” list, I literally have an excuse to just sit on my ass and listen to every single piece of auditory greatness that 2017 gave us for hours and hours on end! More over, I get to really dig into any records that got swept under the rug while I was busy drinking, procrastinating, or random bullshit like arguing with Geico about my premiums or shopping for a new massage chair.

As it turns out, November gave me a ton of material for this Round Up– at 23 albums, I think this might be the most different releases I’ve covered in one of these things – so I really hope you get something out of this! Even if there’s just ONE album that I turn you on to/steer you away from, then it’s all worth it to me.

Reputation – Taylor Swift

You know, I gave this a genuine chance. I was even willing to forego that gimmicky “leave it off streaming platforms for three weeks” marketing plan that Swift and the Suits dreamed up. But Reputation is a big step back from 2014’s Pop juggernaut 1989. Swift’s sixth album features ill-advised experiments with dance music (“I Did Something Bad”, “Look What You Made Me Do”), a really awkward Ed Sheeran collaboration (“End Game”), enough vocal manipulations to make T-Pain gawk, and cheaply invokes sexuality at nearly every turn (“…Ready for It?”, “Delicate”, “Dress”).   All that being said, Reputation has already passed 2 million sales worldwide and is currently occupying the top slot on the Billboard charts for the third week in a row, so as always, the joke’s on me. NOT RECOMMENDED

Radio Silence – Talib Kweli

 For his eighth solo release, the veteran Brooklyn MC and social activist – not to mention, one of Twitter’s most incessant self-righteousness finger-pointers – added another solid installment to his prolific catalogue. While a few late-album cuts like the title track and “Let It Roll” are underwhelming momentum-retardants, there are three songs in particular – “All of Us”, “She’s My Hero”, and “Chips” – that make everything worthwhile. “All of Us” is a soulful collaboration with singer Yummy Bingham that boasts I think, like, the SECOND Jay Electronica verse of all of 2017. “She’s My Hero” is a tear-jerking ode to abuse victim Bresha Meadows. And “Chips” is a rousing collab with none other than Waka Flocka Flame, who sets it on fire with one of the most surprisingly dope guest verses I’ve heard all year. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Ashes EP – Sinsaenum

 This Extreme Metal “supergroup” – featuring Joey Jordison of Slipknot, Frederic Leclercq from Dragonforce, Attila Csihar from Mayhem, and others – came roaring back on the heels of their 2016 debut Echoes of the Tortured with a five-track EP that impressively upped the ante . Whereas their debut was more of a vintage Death Metal record with elements of Black Metal theatrics sprinkled in, Ashes finds the best of Black Metal and Death Metal in a furious seesaw that keeps getting more and more exciting as the tracks unravel. In particular, the opening trio of “Ashes”, “Monarch of Death”, and “2099 (Heretics)” are all absolutely essential listens. While I’ve been rooting for this band since day one, they are now top priority for me when it comes to their next release. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

 Red Pill Blues – Maroon 5

For their third album as Adam Levine Plus Hip-Hop and Dance Beats, Maroon 5’s painful transition into by-the-numbers Z100 wallpaper fully crystallizes. Featuring production and songwriting contributions from every “hit-maker” imaginable – Diplo, Ben Billions, Charlie Puth, Teddy Geiger, Julia Michaels, Jason Evigan, etc. – Adam Levine and his buddies deliver a platter of instantly forgettable songs that are unlikely to have the same chart mojo that the pre-albums singles (“Don’t Wanna Know”, “Cold”, “What Lovers Do”) were able to maintain. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Laugh Now, Fly Later – Wiz Khalifa

 Instead of just letting fans wait a little longer for his hugely anticipated Rolling Papers 2 album, the Khalifa Kush CEO succumbed to the pressure and decided to squeeze out this little turd for anybody still lurking at the bottom of the toilet bowl praying he’ll redeem the last six-and-half years of mediocrity. This 39-minute mixtape consists of about 19 minutes of ad-libs and 20 minutes of bars about smoking weed. Even if you blaze religiously, there’s still no way that sounds appealing. And aside from a couple of decent moments – the “Weed Farm” beat goes hard, and Casey Veggies steals the show on the opener “Royal Highness” – it isn’t. it’s torturously boring. But all of my vitriol, I’m still holding out hope for Rolling Papers 2. Until then, no more “hold-over” projects Wiz, please and thank you. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Kids in Love – Kygo

For his second studio album and follow-up to last year’s overly commercial, monumentally disappointing Cloud Nine, the one-time prince of Tropical House doubles down and gives us 29 minutes of Kidz Bop EDM with the same quality and sophistication of The Chainsmokers. I find it strange that, seeing as Kygo has enjoyed international hits like “Firestone” and “Stole the Show”, he feels the need to make such desperate radio grabs. To be fair, he now has the Sony Music engine behind him, which may or may not have something to do with the bullshit on Kids in Love. Either way, this whole constant-vocals-with-one-small-drop format effectively qualifies this as Pop music – the fact that there’s a OneRepublic feature on a song titled after one of 2017’s biggest television phenomenons (“Stranger Things”) and a True-era Avicci knockoff (“Never Let You Go”) should say it all. Kygo doesn’t seem to have any interest in standing out in any way. He’s just falling in line. It’s a real shame to see it happen to yet another talented EDM artist. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Dusk in Us – Converge

In just a couple years, Converge will hit their thirtieth year as a band. That these New England Metalcore legends are still churning out material that sounds as fresh, fluid, and completely singular as The Dusk In Us is beyond my capacity of understanding. They always deliver. Every. Single. Time. The phenomenal “A Single Tear” single and music – released days before the album – was what initially stoked my excitement for this LP, but the chaotic riff fests that are “Under Duress” and “Broken by Light”, as well as the record’s more delicate moments like “Thousands of Miles Between Us” and the title, all further reinforce my belief that Converge are one of the preeminent Metal bands of the last two decades. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Red Before Black – Cannibal Corpse

Just when I think these Death Metal legends are finally running their formula dry, they deliver more genuinely satisfying assault and battery on Red Before Black, their fourteenth studio album in nearly thirty years as a band. While a track like “Destroyed Without a Trace” is so dime-a-dozen in CC’s catalogue – seriously, it could’ve been on Evisceration Plague, OR Torture, OR A Skeletal Domain OR, well you get the point – this LP does have a few subtle differences. For one, the Tech Metal element that has crept into recent Cannibal releases has been noticeably dialed back – tracks like “Firestorm Vengeance” and “Code of the Slashers” are basically Thrash tunes with Death Metal growls on top. Second….well there is no second. And that’s why this band’s status quo approach never excites me. There’s very little on Red Before Black that I can’t get from the last TWENTY YEARS of Corpsegrinder-era material (which, by the way, I enjoy the hell out of his performance here!). So look, if you’re into this shit, you know the deal. And if you’re not, either go listen to Kill or, like, go do anything else with your time. The same thing the fourteenth time over isn’t gonna sway you. RECOMMENDED

No Dope On Sundays – CyHi the Prynce

 Kanye’s most promising – and yet, perpetually shelved – protégé has been waiting in the wings since impressing Hip-Hop heads across the board with his guest spot on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. And as one of those people eagerly awaiting his turn in the limelight, I’ve been frustrated right alongside him. Seven years later, his debut album has finally seen the light of day, and I’m thrilled to say that it’s one of the few super-delayed Hip-Hop debuts that’s actually worth the wait. With an insightful running theme that contrasts spirituality with street activity, CyHi rips through track after track of eloquent lyricism, thoughtful song structure, and invigorating collaboration, which include the likes of Pusha T, ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz, Travis Scott and Mr. West himself. All in all, No Dope on Sundays is a strong candidate for my Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2017, which will be posted on this blog in the coming weeks. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Post Self – Godflesh

 Despite having an overwhelming fondness for Godflesh’s game-changing industrial classics like Streetcleaner and Songs of Love and Hate, as well as an appreciation for the venerable comeback record that was 2014’s A World Lit Only By Fire, this new one is just too damn esoteric for me. I can’t get into it. For my taste, there’s too much emphasis on ambience and exhaustive repetition and not enough in the way of riffs, which Godflesh have always managed to weave into their sound, regardless of the experimental terrain it has traversed over the years. While the rhythms of tracks like “Parasite” may hit you like an 18-wheeler, there’s almost no semblance of “notes” or musicality, just raw rhythmic noise. And I’m sure, given Godflesh’s stature as the critical darlings of this corner of Metal, they’re being lauded for it by some bloggers. But if I’m being completely honest, Post Self was so over my head that I even scrapped my planned review of it. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

The Thrill of It All – Sam Smith

BB – Mod Sun

I Am Legion – Witchery

Dark Flag – Phinehas

DON’T LIKE:

Psychosis – Cavalera Conspiracy

Reputation – Taylor Swift

No Shame – Hopsin

What If Nothing – Walk the Moon

Kaskade Christmas – Kaskade

Oblivion – T-Pain

SYRE – Jaden Smith

Stranger – Yung Lean

Friday On Elm Street – Fabolous & Jadakiss

 

September 2017 Album Round Up!

It’s a good thing that so few people read this blog, or right now I’d be wading through an endless barrage of angry tweets, emails, texts, Snapchats, and God knows what else asking me why the fuck I’m posting a Monthly Round Up on the 17th of the next month.

The truth is, my priorities have shifted towards my YouTube channel a bit lately. Rather than finish up this post in a timely manner, I opted to use my precious windows of free time to react to Eminem’s anti-Trump BET Awards freestyle and make sure my Black Dahlia Murder review kicked as much ass as possible. Oh, and I’ve got another review dropping today. And another one by the end of the week.

Since I love to write – it’s a visceral form of self-expression that will never cease to fulfill me – I’ll always have content for this blog, but as you may have noticed this past month, things might start to get a little more sparse. I’ve just come to the conclusion that it’s better not to spread yourself too thin and really PUSH for one thing at a time. And with a nice bump in subscribers this past month, YouTube is the way to go at the moment.

But, other than a week here and there without a post, nothing else is gonna change. You’ll still get the kind of direct, filter-less, off-color music commentary that you’ve come to (begrudgingly) expect. And as you’ll see, I haven’t DARED tamper with the Monthly Round Up format that has now been the centerpiece of this blog for a year and a half. So, as per usual, let’s take a look at what this month (September 2017) had to offer:

Concrete and Gold – Foo Fighters

 Dave Grohl and the boys have once again reaffirmed their commitment to genuine, organic Rock ‘N Roll with a set of tunes that far outdoes their 2014 outing Sonic Highways. An irresistble single like “The Line” reminds us why The Foos have achieved the commercial success they have, and more ambitious moments like the Pink Floyd-esque title track and my personal favorite, “Dirty Water” give the LP more depth. Oh, and that Clavinet that appears on “La Dee Da”? AWESOME. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Gemini – Macklemore

 Despite being a one-time defender of Hip-Hop’s most hateable white rapper, Gemini is a Macklemore project I can’t stand behind. His first solo outing since 2005’s The Language of My World, this scattered, inconsistent tracklist never really finds its pace. It’s too busy borrowing from other artists (see the Chance the Rapper-biting “Corner Store” or the forced Lil’ Yachty-collab “Marmalade”) or wasting time with Soccer Mom Pop-Rap (see the Ke$ha-assisted “Good Old Days” or a piano-driven ballad like “Excavate”) to ever find a cohesive sound. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Tell Me You Love Me – Demi Lovato

 Though it gets bogged down by bland moments like “Only Forever”, a bit of over-singing on “You Don’t Do it For Me Anymore”, and one God awful Lil’ Wayne verse, Tell Me You Love Me is still a Pop force to be reckoned with. Between the dance floor-ready “Sexy Dirty Love”, the triumphant title track, and “Cry Baby”, a soulfully sung tale of relationship woe, I walked away from this one-time Camp Rock star’s latest LP with considerably more praise than criticism. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Will to Power – Arch Enemy

 Disappointingly, one of my favorite Melodic Death Metal bands dropped the worst record of their career this time around. It’s not that it’s outright bad – most of the time the ideas on this album sound recycled, and when they don’t sound recycled, they sound plain uninspired. And the one time the band DO step outside their comfort zone – the ballad “Reason to Believe”, featuring the first appearance of clean vocals on an Arch Enemy song courtesy frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz – they ruin it with a surrounding blandness. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

 The Aviary – Galantis

 Still riding the enormous success of the single “No Money”, Galantis have presented us with another set of simplistic EDM songs that get the job done and not a whole lot else. “Tell Me You Love Me”, with its almost childlike exuberance, along with the fraternity tailgate vibes of “Hey Alligator”, represent some higher points on the LP, whereas tracks like “Written in the Stars” and the “Hunter” suffer from a looming, unwelcome Top 40 influence that acts as a diluent and relegates The Aviary to “pick your favorite cuts and skip the rest” status. RECOMMENDED

Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness of Decay – Cradle of Filth

 This is another solid helping of theatrical, unapologetically histrionic Extreme Metal from Dani Filth and co. Since it doesn’t do much more than maintain the rock solid status quo set by its predecessors (2014’s Hammer of the Witches and 2012’s The Manticore and Other Horrors), Cryptoriana isn’t gonna leave you in shock and awe, but it’s not an LP you should skip over if you’re a Cradle fan. Whether it’s the catchy, Maiden-esque gallop in “The Seductiveness of Decay”, the haunting choir melodies in “Wester Vespertine”, or the morbidly poetic lyrics of “Achingly Beautiful”, these Brits have come through with another commendable crowd-pleaser. RECOMMENDED

Cold Dark Place EP – Mastodon

 As I explained in a Mastodon discography ranking that I recently filmed for my YouTube buddy Christian McGuire (video out soon!), Mastodon’s brand new EP is the most interesting music the band have made since 2009’s Prog opus Crack the Skye. The fucking steel guitar on “North Side Star” and the title track especially? OH MY GOD! This post-Metal-y little adventure is radically different from anything the band has done and I am so fucking down for a full album in this style! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Wonderful Wonderful – The Killers

 This fifth record from the Killers (has it really only been five??? They’ve been around forever!) with its New Wave-inspired synths and ‘80s Pop rhythms, could’ve been a fitting Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack if it came out in 1982 – at least a good portion of it. The driving “Run for Cover” feels like a mix of Huey Lewis and Bryan Adams, while the bouncy dance vibes of “The Man”.That’s not to say that Wonderful Wonderful is entirely retro – Psych-Pop contemporaries like Tame Impala shine through on the title cut, while “Out of My Mind” is certainly in line with the recent out put of The 1975. Definitely worth checking out, Killers enthusiast or not. RECOMMENDED

 The Stories We Tell Ourselves – Nothing More

While I had initially written this band off as “Butt Rock” (and therefore unwelcome in my listening rotation), this fifth record of theirs got enough ridiculous Twitter hype that I decided to check it out. And you know what? I’m glad I did. As I discussed HERE, the track “The Great Divorce”, with its irresistible guitar line in the chorus and anthemic vocals from frontman Jonny Hawkins, is one of my favorite Rock songs of the year. And I dug some of the slightly industrial moments too, like “Ripping Me Apart”, which has little pieces of Godflesh lurking inside its shiny mainstream packaging. RECOMMENDED

 Prophets of Rage – Prophets of Rage

 So here’s what an undercooked Rage Against the Machine album would sound like with two aging rappers (in this case, Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Cypress Hill’s B-Real) ranting about justice over it. My biggest beef with Prophets of Rage’s music is that there’s no discussion of concrete issues – aside from one weed legalization song (“Legalize Me”, what a shocker) it’s all these vague allusions to poverty and the 1 percent and homelessness but no constructive dissection of how the current political climate affects these problems or how we can work to enact change. Politicians are liars? No shit, Sherlock. I get it. But if you’re gonna make a politically-charged album, why is it that I learned nothing and there was no compelling call to action anywhere to be found? NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Thrice Woven – Wolves in the Throne Room

Sleep Well Beast – The National

All the Light Above It Too – Jack Johnson

Awake – Illenium

Clairvoyant – The Contortionist

Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

DON’T LIKE:

Life Changes – Thomas Rhett

Deep Calleth Upon Deep – Satyricon

Double Duchess – Fergie

Younger Now – Miley Cyrus

August 25th Singles: Taylor Swift, Miguel, Demi Lovato & more!

So, Summer ‘17 is essentially over. Whether you spent it at camp, or down in Argentina building houses or some type of “do-gooder” shit, or you just continued to slave away at your 9-5 with one less layer of clothing on like I did, I hope these last few months advanced your life forward in some type of positive way. But most importantly, of course, let’s hope Rick Ross’s entire posse got rich like he firmly suggested would be the case. ‘Cause ultimately, that’s what matters in life. Rick Ross’s posse.

Anyway, the end of summer means that the back-to-school music rush is upon us! These next couple months are gonna be as wonderful a time as ever to be a fan of stuff that involves notes, rhythms, melodies, singing, yelling, or anything that remotely resembles music.

With countless release dates stacking up, we began to see a lot of high-profile singles popping up this past week. So many, in fact, that I felt compelled to write about what I heard. For this article, I specifically went after all the A-list stuff. Sure, I could’ve talked about the new Arch Enemy song or whatever, but isn’t it more fun to talk about things that make people gobs of money? Like a Taylor Swift album cycle launch? No? Well, too bad.

Here’s a quick synopsis of a bunch of big-time singles that came out on or around this past Friday:

Sky Walker (feat. Travis Scott) – Miguel

BANGER ALERT! Wow. I’m not sure what floors me the most, how flawlessly Miguel crafted this more Hip-Hop influenced, Weeknd-ish ode to self-indulgence and bravado, or how well Travis Scott’s voice gels with his. Scott is like Miguel’s drug-soaked, auto-tuned sidekick – the two have so much chemistry, you’d think they’ve already done a whole album together (and hey, after hearing this, I’d probably want that to happen!) And this track, while smooth and swaggering as all hell, also has a bit of a goofy, tongue-in-cheek, wink-wink-nudge-nudge kind of thing going on, ‘cause after all, the ridiculous line “Luke Skywalkin’ on these haters!” is part of the refrain.

I don’t know when the next Miguel album is dropping, but whenever that is, I want an album full of THIS!

You Can’t Control It – Jack Johnson

 Listening to this infinitely soothing new single from Jack Johnson – a master of folky singer-songwriter pleasantries – I can practically feel my inner tension loosening. It’s almost like a massage (well, minus the part where you roll over and offer 60 bucks for a happy ending).

The third single from his forthcoming seventh album All the Light Above It Too, “You Can’t Control It” is not only pure calming pleasure sonically – featuring sweet, gentle guitar melodies married with Johnson’s reverb-drenched croon – but there’s something so freeing about hearing that phrase, “You Can’t Control It”. ‘Cause when you walk around feeling like everything is up to you, and everything is your responsibility, you apply this immense pressure to yourself that can be suffocating at times (for instance, I didn’t sleep a wink a couple nights ago because, well, I did just that). Perhaps this song is Johnson’s best cure for what he refers to here as “the war within your head; one that you could never win.”

Look What You Made Me Do – Taylor Swift

As the Internet has already redundantly established, T. Swift’s first solo track in nearly three years is fucking terrible. Why have I – and thousands, if not millions of other irritated eardrums – come to this conclusion? Well, there’s a lot of reasons. I will outline three of them:

Reason 1: the unbearable corniness of the “Kanye West diss” that’s at the heart of it. “I’ve got a list of names and yours is in red, underlined”……oooo, no you didn’t Taylor! Or how about my personal favorite line, when Taylor defiantly chirps: “I got harder in the nick of time”? Hey, it’s always good to know that T. Swift can come through with some clutch erections down the stretch.

Reason 2: the obnoxious hook. Which, by the way, I was so busy being angry at it that I didn’t even pick up on the fact that it was an interpolation of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy”. Shame on me. But it still sucks. And it’s about as likeable as Meaghan Trainor’s “Me Too”. Yeah, I went there.

Reason 3: worst of all, this song is attempting to be some sort of Dance-Pop. Meaning it might start getting played in bars….meaning after paying some bullshit cover charge, I might have to turn around and walk out on all of my friends if it comes on. Either that, or I’ll have to stay home for the next 15 months until the coast is clear.

But who knows, maybe the album will be decent. It’s still early.

You Already Know (feat. Nicki Minaj) – Fergie

After over four years of rumors and eleven total years of elapsed time since her solo debut, Fergie Ferg is finally dropping her sophomore LP Double Dutchess on September 22nd. One of its singles (“L.A. Love”) is three years old. Two more of them we already heard a while ago too. Can’t say I’ve got much going on in the anticipation department when it comes to this record.

Stylistically, Fergie’s been trying a lot of shit. I already gave my mixed two cents on her tropical house adventures on “Life Goes On”, and I think we can all agree that “M.I.L.F. $” (which will also appear on Double Dutchess) is a tasteless Hip-Pop attempt. As for “You Already Know”? It’s a little better, but not by much. It’s obviously crafted for high-energy dancefloor type situations, but Fergie’s obnoxious and completely overcooked rapping steps all over the beat. Nicki Minaj brings a bit of genuine lyrical finesse to offset it, but ever since the record-shattering horror that was Fergie’s “All of the Lights” appearance, I just can’t take her seriously when she tries to rap.

 Tell Me You Love Me – Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato is yet another A-lister ramping up for a late-September album release. “Tell Me You Love Me” is our second taste of her forthcoming sixth record of the same name, and I gotta say, this is one of my favorite Pop songs of the Summer.

I hate using the term “empowering” – in my mind, it often equates to corny Liberalspeak – but this track does have such an uplifting sound that it’s tough to squeeze in any other adjective. The instrumental during the chorus absolutely KNOCKS – those triumphant horns and the booming snare and bass are a hell of a combo. And lyrically, if you ask me, there’s something so sweet and so romantic about admitting to a (SMALL) degree of co-dependence – strong relationships are, after all, partially built on a mutual feeling of importance in each other’s lives, and that’s something Lovato captures beautifully here. Hopefully this one doesn’t get beaten to death by radio.

Pizza – Martin Garrix

Bookended by a sweeping cinematic build-up and comedown, the latest single from this Dutch EDM Wunderkind is a sunny, rapturous burst of energy. What I first saw as cheesy and cookie-cutter has evolved into a fun, simplistic escape and a slight guilty pleasure for me. Truth be told, this song breaks exactly ZERO ground as a stereotypical House track (don’t let the intro and outro distract you into thinking otherwise), but it continues to grow on me with repeated listens. Gonna be a great tune to soundtrack some end-of-summer hangouts.

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.

Trivium’s “The Sin and the Sentence” Single

Nearly two years since 2015’s risky, deliberately minimal Silence in the Snow, the most hateable Metal band on the planet is back with LP number eight, and – I can only assume – another polarizing sound.

Silence in the Snow was perhaps Trivium’s sharpest, ballsiest left turn since 2006’s wildly controversial The Crusade, the infamous record that saw vocalist Matt Heafy abandon the heaven-and-hell scream/sing approach that was prevalent at the time for an opportunity to do his best James Hetfield impersonation. Silence of the Snow found the band once again scrapping their signature screamed vocals from the playbook and intentionally writing simpler, more melodic songs as a way to emulate ‘70s and ‘80s greats like Rainbow and Iron Maiden. The experiment had mixed results, but I admired the effort. I always prefer bands try something new.

Fast-forward to August 2017, and we have “The Sin and the Sentence”, the first single from the Floridians’ as-of-yet untitled eighth album. Being the rebellious, mischievous bunch that they are, they decided to put it out on a Tuesday instead of, you know, Friday, the widely designated day of the week to launch new music. So punk rock.

As with pretty much every Trivium release, you can’t compare this new sound to any one record of theirs. While the “The Sin and the Sentence” maintains the emphasis on Heafy’s (increasingly powerful) clean vocals, the music is significantly heavier this time around. New drummer Alex Bent brings an urgent intensity to the track, complete with rapid-fire bursts of double bass and even a few traditional blast beats tossed in for good measure. His relentless athletics in the song’s epic twin-guitar intro give it a bit of an Arch Enemy flavor.

The catchy, groovy chorus finds Heafy in a duet with himself, as he overlaps clean and harsh vocals in a snappy call-and-response. To be honest, this memorable section helps distract from some of the track’s shortcomings; for starters, from a guitar standpoint, many of the musical ideas presented here are blatantly derivative. The pedal tone riff at 3:05 is not only boring but CERTAINLY recycled, as is the similarly generic riff at 5:25 (also, during the latter, why does he feel the need to randomly yell “FUCK!” for no reason?)

The harmonized neo-classical lead riff at 3:37 is also suspect, and adds to my growing suspicion based on recent albums that the band are simply OUT of new solo ideas. Lastly, I gotta take issue with that dumb three-chord palm-muted progression that kicks off the first verse; it makes me feel like I’m listening to a Pop-Punk band.

All things considered, however, “The Sin and the Sentence” is a step in the right direction for the band. I don’t want to speak too soon, but on my first handful of listens, I’d consider this the best Trivium song since 2011. It brings melody and aggression in equal doses, it’s a bit more indulgent and technical, and it re-introduces some exciting elements to the Trivium sound, most notably Alex Bent’s blast beats and some good ol’ Metalcore riffing (if a bit unoriginal). Looking forward to hearing more from Trivium in the coming months!

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.

Terror’s “The Walls Will Fall” EP

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

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

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

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

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

March 2017 Album Round Up!

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

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

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

Divide – Ed Sheeran

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

Number 1 Angel – Charli XCX

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

Godless Prophets & the Migrant Flora – Darkest Hour

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

Obsidian Arc – Pillorian

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

More Life – Drake

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

Heartworms – The Shins

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

Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross

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

 Conformicide – Havok

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

Eternity, In Your Arms – Creeper 

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

Bloodlust – Body Count

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

A FEW MORE:

 

LIKE:

Woe to the Vanquished – Warbringer

Captain California – Murs

Hot Thoughts – Spoon

At What Cost – Goldlink

Obituary – Obituary (full review here)

Emperor of Sand – Mastodon

DON’T LIKE:

Look at Yourself – Emmure

Black and White Rainbows – Bush

The Wild – Raekwon

For the Fallen – Memoriam (full review here)

The Great Collapse – Fit For An Autopsy

Tremaine The Album – Trey Songz

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Sultan’s Curse

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

Show Yourself

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

Andromeda

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