June 2017 Album Round Up!

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

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

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

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

 

 Last Young Renegade – All Time Low

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

 BEAUTIFUL THUGGER GIRLS – Young Thug

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

Incorruptible – Iced Earth

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

 Wrong One to Fuck With – Dying Fetus

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

 Evolve – Imagine Dragons

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

 Pretty Girls Like Trap Music – 2 Chainz

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

Heart Break – Lady Antebellum

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

 Return of the Don – Kool G Rap

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

 Hydrograd – Stone Sour

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

 Boomiverse – Big Boi

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

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Vengeful Ascension – Goatwhore

Woodstock – Portugal. The Man

Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 – Calvin Harris

Unparalleled Universe – Origin

Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples

Melodrama – Lorde

DON’T LIKE:

Hopeless Fountain Kingdom – Halsey

Wolves – Rise Against

Witness – Katy Perry

Grateful – DJ Khaled

 

All Time Low’s “Last Young Renegade”: Four Singles Deep

When I think “ATL”, a few things tend to spring to mind. Trap music is definitely the first thing. The Falcons in ’06 when they had Michael Vick, that’s another one. As is Donald Glover’s outstanding new television series Atlanta – which, it breaks my heart that it won’t be back this year due to Glover’s role as Lando Calrisian in the upcoming Han Solo movie.

But at second glance, ATL is also an acronym for one of the biggest, best, and now – dare I say – seasoned Pop Punk bands, All Time Low.

I grew up a Metalhead, so All Time Low were really the exception to the rule, offering me periodic breaths of fresh, bubbly Pop Punk air in between the bouts of Extreme Metal savagery that were consuming my life. Along with Yellowcard, Jimmy Eat World, New Found Glory, and a few others, All Time Low were my window into a scene that I casually enjoyed but was not a part of.

Surprisingly, this quartet’s adolescent angst has aged gracefully for me, as I routinely find myself running back to favorites like “Stella”, “Six Feet Under the Stars”, and “Break Your Little Heart”. But when it comes to keeping up with their new output, I’ve been relatively tuned out – 2011’s Dirty Work and 2015’s Future Hearts still have yet to find their way to my ears. But as soon as they announced their seventh album Last Young Renegade, I knew it was time to check back in.

The LP drops this Friday, and we’ve already got 40 percent of it at our disposal in the form of four different pre-album singles – let’s see how they stack up as we head into release day!

Last Young Renegade

Rather than warm up the stove and let the water boil for a bit, All Time Low shoot for pure ANTHEM with this opening title track (hey, it worked for Judas Priest on Painkiller, Black Sabbath on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and….yeah sorry, all my off-the-cuff references here are Metal ones). I love the “no bullshit, let’s get into it” approach, and if you ask me, they stuck the landing. There are two key elements to this song’s success: a) the addictive clean guitar part that drives the verses (and later doubles as the song’s piano outro), and b) the way the first 5 syllables of the chorus stab at the listener in unison along with all the instruments – it’s a powerful effect. Can’t get this one out of my head.

Dirty Laundry

You know what this song is? It’s a brilliant fake-out. For the first 2-and-half minutes, it has such a light, unassuming Pop touch to it that you forget you’re listening to All Time Low….and as soon as you forget that, the band explode out of the guitar solo into the climactic final chorus. That shift is so effortlessly executed! I also have to commend this song for sticking to a cohesive theme – the “dirty laundry” metaphor is kept afloat throughout with cheeky lines like “sometimes I trip over your history” or “her closet’s such a mess/filled up with all the skeletons she’s kept”. Loving this one too!

Nice2KnoU

Here we have a tune that reeks of (relatively inoffensive) genericism. The chanting, the peppy dance groove in the chorus that I knew would show up somewhere on this LP….it’s all something I could’ve conjured up in my head before I ever heard it. The band explained that this song is dedicated to fans and supporters who helped them in their early days….which, I never would’ve gotten that from these one-size-fits-all lyrics. It’s a very average song if you ask me.

Life of the Party

The first time I heard this track, I immediately winced in disgust at those glitch-y chipmunk vocals – one of modern Pop production’s most annoyingly overused trends. “Fuck, didn’t we JUST go through this with the new Linkin Park album?,” I thought to myself. But the more I listened, the more I realized this song TOTALLY pulls off the whole “I’m a rich rock star who constantly parties but underneath it all I’m depressed and worn out” type thing. Kind of like “I Took a Pill in Ibiza”, though “Life of the Party” specifically deals with a) alcoholism and excess, and b) the underlying identity crisis as a result of that lifestyle; frontman Alex Gaskarth finds himself staring into the mirror asking himself questions like “what the fuck is the reason now?”, and realizing that “in a sea of strangers, I can’t find me anymore” (the latter lyric is a favorite of mine). I find myself sympathizing with him immensely in what I see as a cautionary tale – the lifestyle he once glorified is beginning to eat him alive.

Having taken a five-year hiatus from new All Time Low albums, these singles are making me really glad I’m popping back in for Last Young Renegade. I’m curious to hear the remaining six songs – is what we’ve heard so far indicative of the rest of the record? Is this just the top layer of mindblowing greatness, or are we hearing the four “good” tracks from an otherwise unexciting snoozefest? And most importantly, what the hell is that Tegan and Sara feature gonna sound like on “Ground Control”? Guess we’ll have to wait and see!