May 2020 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:

…And Oceans – Cosmic World Mother: A RIPPING Black Metal record! It’s sinister, it’s dark, and the production absolutely overwhelms you. In a post-Behemoth landscape where every extreme band feels like they have to blend in equal parts Death and Black Metal in order to make a splash, Cosmic World Mother is a refreshingly BLACK METAL release through and through (with a touch of the symphonic for good measure), and a shoe-in for my Mid-Year Metal list! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Firewind – Firewind: Littered with lazy songwriting and endless cliches of the genre, these Greek Gods of Power Metal have returned to the middle of the pack for me following 2017’s surprisingly awesome Immortals. However, band leader Gus G continues to be one of the best lead guitar players in the business. Despite how mediocre the songs themselves are, every single one of his solos is impressive! NOT RECOMMENDED.

Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – Alfredo: While I’ll take Freddie Gibbs paired with Madlib any day of the week (in case you’ve forgotten my Bandana love), the guy just can’t miss lately, regardless of who’s behind the boards. I love his commanding flow, his lived-in narratives, and his partner-in-crime Alchemist does deliver on cuts like the jazz-infused “Something to Rap About” and the dreamlike “Scottie Beam”. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Joell Ortiz & KXNG Crooked – H.A.R.D: As the enormous Slaughterhouse fan I am – yes, I even defend the Pop Rap-infected Welcome To: Our House to this day – it is always a treat to see any sort of fractional reunion of the group, even if it’s just for one track on an Eminem album. But getting an entire half hour project from two members was something I DEFINITELY didn’t see coming! While Crooked has always been the better lyricist of the two, Ortiz holds his own against him, and these eight tracks fly by with a heartbreaking quickness. The surprisingly hooky “Get Ya Money” and the moving closer “Memorial Day” are particular highlights. Hope to hear more from these two! RECOMMENDED.

Kehlani – It Was Good Until It Wasn’t: Kehlani literally has no other subject matter besides racy sexual encounters and failed relationships, does she? Seriously, even 2014 Lil’ Wayne had more to talk about than she does on here. But the lyrics are my only complaint about this otherwise smooth, sexy, collection of bedtime jams driven home by one Kehlani Parrish’s agile pipes. Her 2019 mixtape While We Wait was one of my favorite R & B projects of the year and this one will likely wind up in a similar spot for me by December. Still giving it some time to sink in. RECOMMENDED. 

Lady GaGa – Chromatica: As a Metal commentator, it’s difficult for me to discuss Lady GaGa without my words being misinterpreted as coated in all sorts of irony, but the truth is, I’ve been a non-ironic follower of GaGa for over 10 years . And that being said, Chromatica is easily her best record since her debut. A lazy but appropriate comparison here is to Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor – a wholehearted latter-career embrace of Dance-Pop but with subtly meaningful lyricism. The difference, of course, is that much of GaGa’s past music has been classifiably Dance-Pop, but Chromatica is the first time she’s gone “all in” on the genre for an entire LP. And she could not be a better fit vocally as she alternates between a playful monotone and a powerhouse singing voice over these upbeat EDM tracks, many of them produced by titans of the genre like Madeon, Skrillex, and Sebastian Ingrosso. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Moby – All Visible Objects:  Electronic music’s favorite vegan returns with yet another evolution following 2019’s aptly named Long Ambients 2. The production on All Visible Objects does slow to a crawl by the end of the LP, but the bulk of the material here is invigorated, slap-happy, in-your-face EDM with an unyielding knack for atmosphere amidst all the noise. Some of the afterglow of my first listen has worn off, but I’ve still been returning to it quite a bit. RECOMMENDED.

Paradise Lost – Obsidian: The ultimate album for “grey days”, Obsidian finds these English Doom Metal pioneers continuing to build on their legacy after over thirty years. Nick Holmes’ mesmerizing baritone commands your attention on sharp-shooters like “Ghosts”, but it’s his harsh vocals that clear the path for the Agalloch-esque “Serenity” and the lumbering Death-Doom closer “Ravenghast”. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Enjoyed

Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now (Pop)

Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor (Pop)

Havok – V (Metal)

Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately (Alternative)

The 1975 – Notes on a Conditional Form (Alternative)

Didn’t Enjoy

Asking Alexandria – House on Fire (Rock)

Kygo – Golden Hour (Dance)

Vader – Solitude in Madness (Metal)

 

October 2016 Album Round Up!

Back in August I forecasted music release bedlam for the month of October, and boy was I right! Among the albums I heard but didn’t write up here: The Dillinger Escape Plan, Meshuggah, Jimmy Eat World, Darkthrone, and OneRepublic.

Among the albums I didn’t even get to hear yet: Candiria, Red Fang, Wormrot, The Game, Serpentine Dominion, NxWorries, and many, many more!

But I’m sure I’ll have some time to catch up next in the next few weeks – thankfully, the music industry’s about to lightly tap the brakes. But for now, I present to you my musings on what October 2016 had to offer!

The Last Hero – Alter Bridge

2013’s Fortress was Alter Bridge’s magnum opus – it found the band fully integrating a metallic edge into their accessible Hard Rock approach, walking a line only a select few have done successfully (white album Avenged Sevenfold, maybe?).Topping it was going to be next to impossible, but The Last Hero is an excellent follow-up. Once again, anthemic melody is co-existing harmoniously assaultive battering – just listen to “My Champion” and “Island of Fools back-to-back. I also gotta shout out the title track, which is a vast stylistic collage that even brings in some Extreme Metal elements. Aside from two misfires (“Twilight”, “You Will Be Remembered”), Alter Bridge hit another home run. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Stage – Avenged Sevenfold

Out of nowhere, A7X released a bonafide masterpiece that I had no idea they were capable of making. Back in a monstrous way is the wild experimentation that made City of Evil and the White Album so special. The band weaves every mood, every tempo, every groove, and every instrument imaginable into these 70-plus minutes. The dark lyrical concepts running through the LP – dystopia, the dangers of science, the human ego – are as riveting and emotionally potent as anything we’ve heard all year. Not to mention the tear-jerking narration from renowned scientist Neil Degrasse Tyson that closes out the record. An absolutely essential listen. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Hotel EP – Yelawolf

Yelawolf’s surprise EP takes the bluesy Folk Rap of last year’s Love Story LP – a record that was too bloated and self-indulgent for its own good – and marries it with the gritty, speedy, and wildly charismatic bars that made him famous in the first place. It’s the first full project I’ve enjoyed from Yela in several years, and it reignited my interest in what’s next for ol’ Catfish Billy. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Revolution Radio – Green Day

I’m absolutely baffled by how much I’m into this record! I went in with zero expectations, and was pleasantly surprised with a set of high-energy Pop-Punk offerings that made me feel like I’m in middle school again! (That feeling is nearly impossible to come by these days). Other than some poor lyrics (“Youngblood”) and some filler (“Too Dumb to Die”, “Forever Now”), I’m digging Green Day’s latest – the first album of theirs I’ve enjoyed since American Idiot. RECOMMENDED

Two Vines – Empire of the Sun

The Australian Electro duo’s best album yet! Compared with 2013’s Ice on the Dune – an album that has been the soundtrack to so many incredibly fun times for me – Two Vines is less banger-centric and more laid back and unassuming. It’s interesting that this LP came out in late October, because compared to its predecessor, it’s way less Summer-y and more tailored towards chilly late night drives. “ZZZ”, “Way To Go”, and “Before” are my favorite cuts on here. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Serenity of Suffering – Korn

Rolling Stone called this thing “turn-of-the-millenium Korn-by-numbers”, and they’re not wrong. There are zero new ideas on this album. That being said, it’s earning a lot of praise from Metalheads because it’s Korn “returning to form”, per se. And on tracks like “Black is the Soul”, with its dissonant riffage, and lead single “Insane”, with its brooding refrain, that rings true. But its detractors also have a point, especially in the latter half of the LP – you can’t seriously argue that the chorus to “When You’re Not There”, for instance, is anything but a snoozefest. But if you’re looking for an intense, cathartic expulsion of all of your fucked up feelings, or you’re just curious what late-90s Korn would sound like with modern, cleaner production, give this thing a whirl. RECOMMENDED

Joanne – Lady GaGa

 What a colossal fucking disappointment. GaGa dulled her edges, stripped away all the kooky eccentricity, and what’s left is a record with zero personality. Vocally she delivers some great performances, but everything feels so lifeless and uninspired. It’s tough to explain, honestly, ‘cause the songs seem like they should “work”, but when I try and  connect with them, they feel stiff and aloof. I was totally ready to embrace a mature GaGa, but I’m astonished at how much I didn’t like Joanne. Maybe it’ll grow on me, but for now? BLEHHH. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Brotherhood of the Snake – Testament

If you’re on the prowl for 45 minutes of straight Thrash action from one of the Bay Area OGs, Brotherhood of the Snake cannot possibly let you down. But this LP is not nearly as catchy, intricate or dynamic as the band’s 2012 masterpiece Dark Roots of Earth. Not to say it doesn’t perform as advertised – it’s got some ripping thrashers in the vein of their classic records – but it offers nothing beyond that, which left me (ever so slightly) disappointed, especially in comparison with Dark Roots. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Rage & the Machine – Joe Budden 

Even though I dug his last album (2015’s All Love Lost), I was pleasantly surprised to find that Rage & the Machine isn’t another complete mopefest exclusively about breakups, depression, and self-pity (believe me, I love that shit though). On album number six, Joey diversifies things – there’s sample-heavy boom bap, hype trap-influenced shit, and R&B-tinged moments as well, all providing a soundscape for his usual dense rhymes. “Wrong One” is a slapper and a half – ArraabMusik’s beat (he produced basically the whole project) goes SO fucking hard. “Serious” is a menacing duet with Budden’s Slaughterhouse compatriot Joell Ortiz. But there are several misses too – Fabolous’ sing-song flow on “Flex” is terrible enough to drag the entire album down on its own, and “By Law” bores me to tears. As a big Budden fan, I got some great new jams out of this, but I’m still waiting for the hooks, the narrative, the bars, and the beats to all add up into a single classic project. RECOMMENDED

 Three – Phantogram

 Phantogram’s dramatic, occasionally theatrical third LP is their best yet. I especially enjoy how the often bleak lyrics pair equally well with hard-hitting synths, dreamy, shoegaze-y landscapes, and some of the more Hip-Hop based production. But I’m not in love with everything here – namely, the irritating hook on “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” and the plodding “Barking Dog”. Overall, Three is a concise crash course in the many facets of the Phantogram sound, which you can broadly label as “Alternative”, but which gets pretty sophisticated when you try and whittle the versatile duo down to a single subgenre. RECOMMENDED

DC4 – Meek Mill

Zzzz……I usually listen to these albums at least three to five times, but I made it through three songs on this one. Same ol’ same ol’. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Whole of the Law – Anaal Nathrakh

Listening to Anaal Nathrakh’s eclectic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to Extreme Metal is like playing subgenre I Spy. In a matter of seconds, these motherfuckers will cycle through Grindcore, Black Metal, Death Metal, Power Metal, and God knows what else, making for a uniquely exhilarating listening experience. There has yet to be a major misstep in the band’s catalogue, but “The Whole of the Law” might just be their best in a decade. Sure, you can criticize this record for being a bit wonky and over-the-top, but that’s EXACTLY why I love it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Breathe in the Water – Kyng

Kyng’s throwback blend of Hard Rock and Metal continues to work on album number three. You can find Breathe in the Water at a delightful intersection between Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, and Baronness.“Pristine Warning”, “Bipolar Schemes”, and the title track all pack quite the punch in the riff category. I just wish this band would get the fucking attention they deserve! RECOMMENDED