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

Stone Sour’s “Hydrograd”: Four Singles Deep

As dictated by the cycle of Corey Taylor – a.k.a. the Great Big Mouth – a new Stone Sour album is upon us.

Step 1: Put out a Slipknot album

Step 2: Write a book

Step 3: Get in a Childish Pissing Match with Another Rockstar Ego in the Press

Step 4: Put out a Stone Sour Album

Step 5: Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Since Mr. Taylor has just recently completed step 3, it’s only fitting that Stone Sour’s sixth album Hydrograd (I’m counting House of Gold & Bones as two separate albums) is dropping this Friday.

And it’s really Stone Sour 2.0 now; Taylor’s Slipknot cohort Jim Root is out, new shredder Christian Martucci is in (he first appeared on Stone Sour’s recent covers EPs Meanwhile in Burbank and Straight Outta Burbank), and apparently the band are reinventing themselves this time around.

Taylor has been hyping this up endlessly (as he does with every single fucking note of music he releases) as a “Rock ‘n’ roll” album of sorts. He has described it in the press as being “tight”, “fast”, “rocking”, “melodic”, “crushing”, and a myriad of other useless adjectives (that last one is especially suspect). But in all seriousness, I was really glad to hear about the band’s change of pace on this LP, ‘cause I think another go ‘round of their Hard Rock/Alt-Metal hybrid would’ve been overkill.

With three days to go, we’re currently four singles deep into Hydrograd’s fifteen-song tracklist. Let’s see how it stacks up so far!

Taipei Person/Allah Tea

Get it??? “Type A Personality”??? Pretty clever eh??? All kidding aside, this is an awesome song. It fuses a chunky Metallica heaviness with a bit of fun ‘80s sleaze. On one hand, the breakdown right after the two-minute mark is pure Ride the Lightning-era ‘Tallica, while carefree lyrics like “running out of road but I’m still doing 75” feel like something off of Appetite for Destruction. When Corey Taylor said in the press that Hydrograd “has everything you want in a rock album”, I can only assume he was talking about “Taipei Person/Allah Tea”.

Song #3

Contrary to what its hipster title might imply, “Song #3” is Stone Sour at their poppiest and most radio friendly. This tune essentially consists of one giant chorus (equipped with layers of guitars and vocal harmonies) and a series of placeholders, whether it’s the super bland palm-muted verses, the anti-climastic guitar solo, or…well, I’ve pretty much covered the whole song. It’s a bit sappy for my taste – it reminds me of a less dynamic “Say You’ll Haunt Me” (Corey Taylor’s love letter to his wife on Stone Sour’s third LP Audio Secrecy). And it leans way too hard on its chorus to carry over four minutes of music.

Fabuless

Yet another cheeky song title. Since its debut back in April, I have spent as much time enjoying this track as I have being confused by it. ‘Cause it sounds like Stone Sour aren’t sure what kind of band they wanna be as they rapidly shift gears from chugging Metal riffs to a Hard Rock chorus to a Groove Metal/Nu Metalish post-chorus (“it’s all downhill from here!”). But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I enjoy all of this song’s individual components, and Taylor’s seething anti-celebrity lyrics remind me of his hilarious, angry tirades as an author. I should mention Christian Martucci’s ripping guitar solo is a high point as well. This is a very strong single!

Mercy

Without question the weakest link of the bunch, “Mercy” is as unmemorable as they come. Part of me wonders if my distaste for this song is just a product of the band’s uninspired live rendition – and maybe the official recording will do it justice – but that’s pretty doubtful. I especially can’t get over that dud of a lyric in the chorus: “going nowhere, now I’m here”. It just rubs me wrong. That, and in the live video when cameraman fails to pan over to Christian Martucci during his solo? A major pet peeve of mine. We’ll see how this one fares in the context of the full record though.

Hydrograd is out Friday, June 30th on Roadrunner Records. You can catch a full, in-depth review on my YouTube channel the following week!

 

 

RL Grime’s “Stay For It” Single

If for the past few months there was some game show host running around offering $5 million to whoever could name the best EDM song of 2017, I would’ve been shit out of luck had he happened upon me. That was, until this past Friday. If that hypothetical guy came up to me on the street and stuck a camera in my face on Friday or any day since then, ya boy would have somewhere around $2,483,124 of after-tax money sitting in a few well-diversified Vanguard index funds. And maybe a Ferrari or two.

What I’m trying to say here is, this new track from Trap powerhouse RL Grime is fucking awesome.

As I talked about here, Mr. Grime’s “Aurora” single was one of my favorite party songs of 2016…for reasons not too distant from why I love this brand new single “Stay for It”, which features a collaboration with big-time R & B crooner Miguel.

Like “Aurora”, “Stay for It” is structured around two enormous, scintillating drops. I can’t even begin to imagine the hard-hitting, dramatic impact they’re gonna have in the live setting. Jesus fucking Christ.

Unlike “Aurora”, “Stay for It” has one of the biggest singers in the world lending his pipes for the occasion. Miguel’s appearance adds a completely new dimension to what’s already a massive sound. This song, simply put, would NOT be the same without the LA native’s belting high notes right before the drop. It’s kinda like when a rollercoaster stops at the top of a big plunge and everyone screams.

Miguel’s reverbed-out vocals elevate the song through its brief verses and its spellbinding bridge too, the latter of which features this rapid-fire synth line that sounds like it’s headed to outer space and back. This section kicks off a magnificent 50-second build to the final drop – a build that’s executed at a perfect acceleration, with enough frenzied momentum to make the final destination climactic, but avoiding any excessive delay that would make it tantalizing or frustrating.

Interestingly enough, “Stay for It” would’ve been a big deal even if it wasn’t as great as it is. ‘Cause other than Pop-House institutions like David Guetta or Calvin Harris, EDM guest vocals rarely utilize the star power of someone like Miguel. In fact, EDM vocal appearances are often anonymous and uncredited. So to have Miguel singing over a Melodic Trap banger like this one is huge for the genre – hopefully it’ll help bring this style greater exposure and inspire similar partnerships in the future.

According to RL Grime’s YouTube description for this track, him and Miguel started working on it in the back of a tour bus two years ago. Well, I’m glad they took their time, because the payoff was worth it ten fucking times over. PLEASE, do yourself a favor and check this out.

And if you’ve already heard it, go listen to it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Slayer, Lamb of God, and Behemoth: The Metal Tour of the Summer?

As Metalheads stare down our first summer with President Code Orange in office, our second straight summer without a Mayhem Festival, and our third straight summer without an Uproar Festival (the latter of which…good riddance), we got a big piece of news this past weekend. A piece of news that gives Summer ’17 a bit more meaning than just another three warm months where it’s easier to get laid. This past weekend, a must-see tour was announced: Lamb of God, Behemoth, and Slayer will be hitting the road together.

I can hardly contain my fucking excitement. Somewhere in America there’s a concert promoter who deserves a serious promotion (see what I did there?). This is the kind of lineup where the powers at be could get away with Ticket Price Rape. Not only does this lineup consist of three of Metal’s indisputable giants, but it’s also a) three of Metal’s indisputable giants of the LIVE arena, and b) it brings together three distinct fanbases that strike the perfect balance in terms of overlapping enough as to avoid polarizing the audience, but being different enough to draw headbangers from all walks of life.

I suppose in terms of pure album sales, Behemoth’s going to have to perform first, which is a bit depressing in the way that watching Megadeth go second on the Big Four was. Behemoth – whose last album The Satanist has already worked its way up into my favorite Extreme Metal albums of ALL TIME – are the one band I’ve yet to see live, so catching their set will be priority numero uno. As for Slayer, I haven’t caught a show since the 2010 American Carnage tour, where they played Seasons in the Abyss in its entirety, so I’m due for some thrashin’ about in the pit to a more well-rounded set. And Lamb of God….I saw them last spring and they fucking destroyed – provided they’ve tweaked their setlist a bit, I’ll be just as stoked to see them this time around.

Start saving your money NOW. Spend a sober weekend away from the bar, break up with your girlfriend right before her birthday….do whatever it takes to set aside the cash, ‘cause this is NOT a show you will want to miss. And if you’re somehow inexcusably behind the eightball on any these three bands, familiarize yourself with their catalogues – not only will your concert experience be greatly enhanced, but so will your overall quality of life.

Supposedly, the tour dates will be announced later this week. SEE YOU IN THE PIT!

John Mayer – The Search For Everything: Wave One EP Review

John Mayer is one of those people whose so brilliant you can’t really blame him for being kind of a douche. His mastery of the Pop hook, his chops as a guitar player, his genre elasticity and the all-around adventurous spirit with which he approaches music…he’s easy to hate but equally easy to admire. After detours into Country and Folk with his last two LPs – 2013’s exceptional Paradise Valley and the previous year’s solid-but-less-exceptional Born & Raised – Mayer is one of the artists whose new tunes I’ve been most anxiously anticipating.

Wave One of The Search For Everything (which is Mayer’s seventh full length) is the official kick off of an exciting, unorthodox release strategy in which the Connecticut-born “recovering ego addict” will drop four songs a month until the whole LP is completely“ out”. A n intriguing approach from one of the elite “so-successful-he can-do-whatever-he-wants” members of the industry.

Reviewing four short songs is, well, exactly that. It’s basically four intertwined track reviews. So we might as well start with “Love on the Weekend”, the lead single Mayer premiered back in November. This track is a resurrection of the warm, intimate Rom-Com relatability of his debut Room for Squares – Mayer sings matter-of-factly about the every day ins and outs of relationships and packages it with bubbly melodies like only a Pop genius like him can. He makes romance sound so effortless and so casual with a lovely, soft-spoken piano line that’s accentuated by sleek stabs of clean guitars.

“Love on the Weekend” definitely feels like a deliberate, conscious return to simplicity for the songwriter – Mayer’s music hasn’t sounded this stripped down in over a decade (though the quaint Born & Raised was similarly straightforward – just in a whole new style, mind you.) I can only fault it for being TOO MUCH of a “Pandora station for a froyo shop” type song. It’s pleasant as can be, but it does have a certain wallpaper quality to it.

The opening cut “Moving On and Getting Over” is a much more interesting affair. Stylistically it’s an intersection of Heavier Things and Continuum. What immediately caught my attention is Mayer’s use of octave vocal harmonies in the verses – the harmonizing pitches are so far apart that it creates the illusion of two separate singers in two separate moods trying to express the same thing. It’s a fucking cool effect. Lyrically, it’s an understated meditation on the aftermath of a break up – the point where you THINK you’re ready to move on but you’re still, as John himself puts it, “One text away from being back again”. And the funky guitars that accompany these sentiments tie a neat little bow around a superb song.

But it’s the tender, heartwarming piano ballad “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me” that steals the show. There’s something so wistful about Mayer’s performance as he whistles his way through an unforgettable melody with one particularly beautiful chromatic passing tone (in laymen’s terms: that one note that doesn’t sound like it “fits”). And there’s one lyric that practically brings me to tears: “Life is full of sweet mistakes/and love’s an honest one to make”. Just so glad John Mayer thought of it first and not Nicholas Sparks or some other hokey sap.

Unfortunately, the one BIG dip in quality is “Changes”, which could’ve easily found a nice, comfy spot on the cutting room floor. It’s bland and predictable, with a refrain that isn’t strong enough to be repeated as many times as it is. And let’s not even begin to dissect this gem: “ I see the sky changing/it reminds me of my changing”. Ugh, what the fuck. But hey, I’m not at all mad at that Stevie Ray Vaughan-esque guitar tone in the solo though!

To be honest, it’s tough to review a small fourteen-minute chunk of a record. ‘Cause fascinatingly enough, even though “Wave One” had some mixed results (Mayer batted .750 with me if you’re keeping score), if the next three “Waves” – or however many it ends up being – are super consistent, then that still adds up to a great album! So we’ll see. I certainly commend John Mayer for throwing us all for a loop, and it’s going to make my job that much more delightfully puzzling in the coming months. Until Wave Two, John!

Lupe Fiasco’s “DROGAS Light”: Four Singles Deep

As I mentioned in my last post, next month Alleged Jew-Hater-Turned-Rap-Retiree Lupe Fiasco will be dropping a follow-up to 2015’s highly acclaimed Tetsuo & Youth, rumors and click bait be damned. A fan of Lupe’s for almost a decade, I’m as excited as I am curious to check out and review the LP, titled DROGAS Light, out February 10th. And in the past couple weeks, Lupe has now unchained more than a quarter of the 14-song tracklist for our listening pleasure via Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube.

I almost fucking missed it. I WOULD’VE fucking missed it, actually, if I hadn’t noticed “Jump” make an appearance on Apple Music’s “hot tracks” list. And so I immediately diverted my attention (from reviewing Sepultura’s Machine Messiah – coming this week on my YouTube channel) and JUMPED in, horrible pun intended.

Made in the USA (feat. Bianca Sings)

Production-wise the most “stereotypical mainstream Hip-Hop” of these tracks (possibly on purpose), “Made in the USA” might be the most energetic I’ve ever heard Lupe on a track. Lupe’s delivery is always sleek and graceful, even when the subject matter gets intense. But here, he’s fucking hype. It is tongue-and-check? Probably, because as long time fans will likely recognize, he spits these lyrics with a familiar politically-charged facetiousness – one can only assume he’s not actually that proud to be an American right now. Especially since him and Colonel Sanders aren’t on such good terms– he mentions that “KFC is trying to kill me”, and whenever a fast food chain is coming for your head, you’ve seen better days. Kidding aside, “Made in the USA” is a confusing listen in the way that a track like “Bitch Bad” is – it SOUNDS like a banger, but ‘cause Lupe clearly wants you to dig deeper, you practically feel guilty enjoying it at a surface level. And that’s why this is my least favorite of the four songs.

 Jump (feat. Gizzle)

“Jump” – which, given its lack of an impactful hook, is surprisingly the most popular of the bunch – is partially cut from the “A Milli” cloth: rapidly repeated vocal sample, booming bassline, and lots of space for stream-of-consciousness bars. But it’s actually a story track, and if you follow along, it gets pretty damn weird – the protagonist and his new female companion get abducted by aliens, and she (“she” meaning lesbian fem-C Gizzle, who has written for TONS of big name rappers) talks about sampling some…alien pussy. But it’s entertaining through and through, and I like it a lot. Is there some symbolism behind the female character in the story, or maybe the entire plot itself? I’m sure there is, but I’ll leave it to the more pretentious listeners to sort that out.

Pick up the Phone

Listening to this track, I can’t help but wonder if it would’ve boosted the success of Lupe’s heavily criticized third LP Lasers, his detour into Pop-Rap. In a way, this one’s got all the elements of a formulaic Pop chorus – acoustic guitars, simple radio-friendly chord progression, easily digestible vocal melody courtesy of Sebastian Lundberg, and some strings to add a tinge of drama. But the difference is it’s good. Really good, actually. By his standards, Lupe’s lyrics might be a tad disposable, but he flows in a way that’s friendly to Hip-Hop fans and mainstream listeners alike. We’ll see if this one can cross over. Also, the intro to the beat is reminiscent of “Superstar”, so it’s got that going for it.

Wild Child (feat. Jake Torrey)

Like “Pick Up the Phone”, “Wild Child” is another poppy affair, venturing even further in that direction. I’ll say this much: if the God damn radio doesn’t pick up on this song, I might hurt someone. Or have a stroke. Or hurt someone, then have a stroke. It’s so fucking catchy. “Wild Child” not only has a lot going for it musically – perky guitars, spunky bass lines, and a danceable, swinging groove in the chorus – it exudes a beautifully carefree vibe, and “carefree” is not a word you can use to describe ANY of Lupe’s music, really. Sure, the song’s Summer-y vibes might not fit the current mid-January climate, but who cares! I’m looking forward to having this as a sleeper song for pregames when girls are around.

Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2016

Hey everyone, welcome to my Top 10 Hip-Hop albums of 2016, a.k.a. Shit-on-Panny-For-His-Terrible-Music-Taste Round One! This will be my only blog exclusive Year-End List! So be sure to catch the rest on my YouTube channel in the next couple weeks, including the one I already put out. A few clarifications before we get into this:

  • As always – and it’s kinda frustrating that I have to even say this – this list is 100 percent my personal taste! C’mon guys, none of this shit is ever “objective”, whatever the hell that means. These records are arranged solely based on how much I ENJOYED them. An album in the number three slot is not “better” than an album in the number seven slot – I just dug it more!
  • Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered was not eligible, because it wasn’t an official full-length release.
  • Death Grips’ Bottomless wasn’t eligible either – I’d rather file that one under “experimental” music. Dug the hell out of it though!

With all that nonsense out of the way, let’s dive in!

10. THE DIVINE FEMININE – MAC MILLER

Likely to be my most controversial pick, Mac Miller’s fourth record (and best yet) is as fun, wide-eyed, blissful, and heartwarming as any music I heard all year. It’s this brazen celebration of love and sexuality that carves its own unique niche in Hip-Hop. Mac’s whole-hearted commitment to the LP’s concept, his (as usual) great beat selection, and his flawless balancing of his talented guests made this one the ultimate not-so-guilty pleasure.

Top 3 Tracks: “Cinderella”, “Dang!”, “Stay”

9. COLORING BOOK – CHANCE THE RAPPER 

Unfortunately, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Chance’s hugely hyped third project because, well, it was HUGELY HYPED. Overly so, to the point where I got so fucking sick of hearing about it. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it! Chance’s playful personality and seemingly unending charisma continue to set him apart. Not to mention, Coloring Book has more than enough bars, soul, and inventive genre fusions to go around.

Top 3 Tracks: “Angels”, “No Problem”, “Blessings”

8. 3001: A LACED ODYSSEY – FLATBUSH ZOMBIES

The debut full-length from these Brooklyn upstarts gives me high hopes for the future of the genre. Though its clearly rooted in ‘90s nostalgia, 3001 has one eye looking out the front windshield, embracing some trap-based production and molding it to fit the Zombies’ over-the-top O.D.B.-esque charisma. And there’s a sizable melodic undercurrent that makes it all feel like more than just a gritty, drug-addled cypher.

Top 3 Tracks: “R.I.P.C.D.”, “Bounce, “Good Grief”

7. LAYERS – ROYCE DA 5’9

Royce’s unbelievable rhyming skills are on display once again? Zero surprise there. Where the surprise did come: the Detroit OG did right by his phenomenal bars by surrounding them with legitimately great songs, something he and his Slaughterhouse counterparts have struggled with in the past few years. His beat selection is outstanding, with the swaggering production on tracks like “Wait” and “Layers” guiding him to the finish line like a spotter on a bench press. Other times, like on the opening track “Tabernacle” – the single best Hip-Hop song of 2016 – his lyrics and storytelling are so mindblowing that I could literally listen to him a cappella.

Top 3 tracks: “Tabernacle”, “Pray”, “Layers”

6. HANDSHAKES WITH SNAKES – APATHY

CT’s own Apathy came through with an album so directly up my alley, it’s like he made the damn thing with me in mind (I’ll take a second to pause while you wonder if I’m a paranoid schizophrenic). It’s got hard-hitting, sample-based boom bap production, it’s got intricate lyricism up the wazoo, and Ap’s constantly railing against the youngest generation of rappers and the autotune and “emo-rap” that’s becoming all the rage with the kids these days. Don’t sleep on this project!

Top 3 Tracks: “Pay Your Dues”, “Charlie Brown”, “Amon Raw”

5. FISHING BLUES – ATMOSPHERE

My initial review of the latest from these Minneapolis veterans was a bit more mixed, but this fucking record just grew on me and grew on me and grew on me. A lot of it has to do with Ant’s gorgeous production, as well as Slug’s endless likability on the mic. Even when he’s not expressing it in the most impressive or clever of ways, I vibe with everything Slug says here. And that’s how this LP snuck into my Top 5 – I had a profound emotional connection with it. At the end of the day, fuck the critic shit – that’s what music’s about.

Top 3 Tracks: “Fishing Blues”, “Everything”, “The Shit That We’ve Been Through”

4. WE GOT IT FROM HERE…THANK YOU 4 YOUR SERVICE – A TRIBE CALLED QUEST

 Tribe’s sixth LP and swansong is better than anyone could’ve hoped for. The fucking thing picks up RIGHT where classics like Midnight Marauders left off – it combines thoughtful, semi tongue-in-cheek rhymes with rich, instrument-driven production. The only difference, of course, is We Got It From Here feels incredibly TIMELY. In a year where American politics devolved into sickening chaos and everybody seems to hate each other for ten million different reasons, Tribe are exactly who we needed to hear from. Oh, and the features are out of this world. Are you gonna pass up an album that has Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Elton John, Busta Rhymes, and Talib Kweli on it? Didn’t think so.

Top 3 Tracks: “We the People”, “Dis Generation”, “Kids”

3. TOP OF THE LINE – RITTZ

The third LP from this criminally underrated Strange Music Signee is a spectacular blend of head-splitting double-time flows, meticulously crafted multi-syllabic rhyme schemes, banging production, and infectious pop hooks to top it all off (the latter of which helps set him apart). But most importantly, Rittz has so much to say, touching on a myriad of interesting topics and not wasting a single bar. To give you an idea, here’s a brief list of things the Georgia MC discusses (and chronicles in detail, really) throughout these 21 tracks: his battle with substance abuse, the death of his dog (“Nostalgia” is the most touching moment on the album), race relations in America and how they relate to the white rapper, suicidal thoughts, spirituality, the decadent touring lifestyle, infidelity in relationships, his come up in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and loads more. And it’s all compelling, lyrically dazzling, and packaged into digestible, straightforward tunes.

Top 3 Tracks: “The Formula”, “Nostalgia”, “KISA”…then the other 18

2. ATROCITY EXHIBITION – DANNY BROWN

As an MC, Danny Brown is occupying a lane entirely his own. Though some may be turned off by his eccentric, almost cartoonish delivery, Atrocity Exhibition is undeniably one of the most unique, dark, zany, and wildly stimulating Hip-Hop records ever made. Brown’s tortured rhymes sit atop an A.D.D.-inducing array of beats that contains nods to Rock, Punk, a bit of R & B, and whatever the hell “Ain’t It Funny” is. The all-star posse cut “Really Doe” and the bare “Pneumonia” are two instances where Brown dials back the crazy and serves up some straightforward bangers, but most of the time his mind is off in cacophonous La La Land, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Top 3 Tracks: “Ain’t It Funny”, “Rolling Stone”, “Really Doe”

1. THE LIFE OF PABLO – KANYE WEST

Man, I really had to dig deep on this choice. Once I had my Top 3 narrowed down, I immediately started stressing, my mind racing through every possible negative reaction to my opinions – the worst thing to pay attention to as a music writer. But I planted my feet firmly, blocked out all the outside noise, blocked out all of my friends’ and peers’ opinions, and listened to my gut. What was the Hip-Hop album I got the most enjoyment out of in 2016? What album defined the year for me? What album had the most great songs, and the least not-so-great songs? The answer: The Life of Pablo. Sure, Atrocity Exhibition would’ve been the safe “critic-approved” choice, and Top of the Line is the ultimate underdog, but the dopamine receptors in my brain keep pointing toward the wacked-out, schizophrenic genius of Kanye’s seventh record. For me, this is his best since Graduation. It’s got everything – incredible features, suberb production, lyrics that are as thought-provoking as they are confrontational, incendiary, and outrageous…I know few agree, but this record is a classic. Thanks Kanye, I’ll forgive all your other dumb shit.

Top 3 Tracks: Jesus Christ….ummm…..”Famous”, “Waves”, “Real Friends”?

And here are five HONORABLE MENTIONS:

The Impossible Kid – Aesop Rock

The Art of Hustle – Yo Gotti

Don’t Smoke Rock – Smoke DZA & Pete Rock (full review here)

Black America Again – Common

Do What Thou Wilt. – Ab-Soul (it’s only been out a few days, but wanted to shout it out! It’s HARDD!)