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.

Retrospective Review: Calvin Harris – Motion

Last month I had to face a cold, harsh truth: I’m past my Longboarding prime.

When I was seventeen, I picked up the hobby for like three months and I’m pretty sure I mildly impressed a few people. I even got those fancy Slide Gloves and learned to do a couple of legitimate tricks (I believe one was called a “Coleman”). Before I knew it, every girl in my high school wanted nothing more than to fuck my brains out. Just kidding, no one cared. But in all seriousness, as a lover of learning first and foremost, I had an absolute blast with the whole process – putting in the long hours and watching my rapid growth at this new hobby – just as I had done with guitar before that and sacrificing goats before that or whatever Fox News hosts think Metalheads do in our free time.

But as anybody past the age of eighteen is well aware, getting older means that your many interesting hobbies quickly narrow down to the two-or-three-things-you- kinda-just-do-to-avoid-blowing-your-brains-out-in between-grueling-work-hours. And as much as I love to Longboard – and would recommend it in a heartbeat to anybody I meet – my beautiful Landyatchz board has just been sitting in my garage for years and years.

So I finally pulled the trigger and sold it on Craig’s List for a hundred bucks. I immediately took that hundred bucks (which was paid to me in a single crisp Franklin) and cleaned out the Dance Music section at my local soon-to-be-bankrupt FYE.

One of my purchases was a used copy of Calvin Harris’ wildly successful 2014 album Motion. And when I say the album was “wildly successful”, I mostly mean two songs: “Summer” and “Outside” (the latter of which features Ellie Goulding). Both were utterly inescapable that year, and I have fond memories of being drunk at many a college party while they throbbed in the background.

For the last year or so, my main musical “research project” has been Electronic Dance Music. I’ve been frantically consuming anything even remotely related to that world, from ‘70s Disco to ‘90s Gabber to whatever the fuck Kraftwerk is, working hard to better understand the genre. I’ve been falling in love with it all at an alarming pace, and my goal is to eventually have the necessary background and knowledge to start reviewing it on confidently . But more on that quest later.

So in the midst of this exploration, I figured Motion would be a great case study when it comes to modern EDM crossing over into the Pop mainstream.

Motion was Calvin Harris’ follow-up to his breakthrough 2012 album 18 Months, which featured smashes like “Feel So Close” and high-profile collaborations with the likes of Ne-Yo, Rihanna, Ellie Goulding, and more. And like its predecessor, Motion’s track list takes a star-studded, radio-baiting approach, with only three feature-less tracks out of fifteen, and guests ranging from Gwen Stefani to Alesso to Big Sean to Ellie Goulding. What Calvin Harris did on 18 Months and Motion is a lot like what David Guetta did on Nothing But the Beat and Listen – tighten up house music to fit a compact Pop format, then pass off the hooks to A-listers. It’s a brilliant strategy, one that in retrospect, I’m surprised artists like Tiesto didn’t figure out a decade earlier (but then again, dance music wasn’t yet the full-blown phenomenon it would become).

Unfortunately – winning formula or not – collaborations need chemistry, and some of the collabs on Motion feel so shamelessly “pieced together”. One such instance is the Gwen Stefani-assisted “Together”, which has a lively drop and everything, but also has this cold, calculated-ness to it as Stefani sings some generic lovedrunk lyrics.

Speaking of guest appearances, Motion includes what I now recognize as one of the worst songs in recorded history – “Open Wide”, featuring Big Sean. It’s a complete piece of shit. I’m not sure what I despite about it most, the anti-climatic drop itself, Big Sean’s bars (he rhymes “blouses” with “trousers”), or his obnoxious, trashy refrain asking for…well, you can figure it out from the title. Let’s just say it makes Nickelback’s “Something In Your Mouth” look super fucking classy.

But other than a couple forced duets and a couple low-bro moments (I’d throw the heinous drop in “Overdrive” in the latter category along with “Open Wide”), Motion does deliver on its obvious M.O.. When it comes to lightweight, accessible, party-friendly dance songs, this album totally works. Couple that with the fact that most of its intended audience doesn’t give a shit about full albums (i.e. we can ignore a few duds), and it REALLY works.

Whether its Harris putting together a simple, uplifting tune on his own (“Faith”) or knocking a Swedish House Mafia-style banger out of the park (“Under Control” with Alesso), this is as non-threatening and approachable as dance music gets. It sounds tailor-made to soundtrack summer day drinks and club nights alike, and while it may feel cheap and easy at times, who am I to chastise the man for achieving his goal? Especially with standout tracks like “Outside,” which still launches my brain into a blissful party montage with every listen.

And while I may have been introduced to one of my least favorite songs I’ve ever heard, I also found a new favorite. When I first heard the HAIM-guesting “Pray to God”, my jaw hit the floor. No joke, I’ve listened to that song over fifty times since I got this CD. I am fucking furious with myself for missing the boat on it back when Motion dropped. Not only is the dance beat itself a mind-boggling, irresistible charge of adrenaline, but Danielle Haim’s soaring vocals make me wish she did more guest appearances. And the cherry on top is the uber-melodic guitar part that pops in as Harris hits the brakes for the song’s final 20 seconds. I can tell this one’s gonna stick with me for years to come.

Until I inevitably become an EDM snob somewhere down the line, albums like Motion are totally cool with me. Before writing this review I spent two weeks blasting this CD in my car with the windows down and had – aside from a couple completely intolerable songs – very little complaints. As long as people continue to party and continue to overlook shoddy deep cuts, the Motions of the world will never go out of style. That being said, though I’m sure Calvin Harris could easily keep pumping out albums like this for years to come (and I’ll probably dig a few tracks off of each one), I’m hoping that his latest smash single “Slide”, my second favorite song of the year so far, is a sign of greater things to come.

When contrasted with the material on Motion, “Slide” is so much more mature, multifaceted, and stylistically distinctive. And his two features, Frank Ocean and Migos, could not have been a more organic fit. Though Motion showcased Calvin Harris’ undeniable ear for hits, “Slide” has me psyched to hear this talent of his applied to a more unique, impactful project. ‘Til then, I guess my Longboard money went to good use.

January 2017 Album Round Up!

Greetings to all you lovebirds out there 😉

If you’ve got a special someone in your life, hope you and your bank account are gearing up for some good ol’ Valentine’s Day lovin’ next week . If that special someone is still finding their way to you, or if they already did and you fucking blew it, hope the ice cream, tears, and rom com re-runs are good to you. But for most of the single guys out there, hope you enjoy another typical Tuesday with a pointless cultural label where getting laid might be slightly easier.

As for me, I hope to spend Valentine’s Day VERY erotically – listening to that new Marilyn Manson record he’s hinted at (literally the opposite of coincidentally) releasing on that day. It’s supposed to be called Say10. If that title doesn’t strike a chord with you, slowly pronounce it out loud until it clicks. Don’t worry, it took me an embarrassing amount of time to put two and two together, too.

So while you make the necessary preparations (read: purchases) for a drama-free and sex-filled Valentine’s Day, here are some thoughts on what the first month of 2017 had to offer music-wise! We’re off to a pretty good start if you ask me!

Forever – Code Orange

 The hottest act in Metalcore unleashed their third record this month to frenzied excitement. Me? Just a contrarian son of a bitch, I guess. I LIKE album – furious cuts like “Real”, “Spy” and the title track are bone-crushing rushes of adrenaline, and my biggest praise is the LP’s mindboggling variety, with “Bleeding In the Blur” bringing some melodic Post-Hardcore to the table and “Ugly” fusing together ‘90s Alt-Rock with gruff Hard Rock – but the barrage of not-so-special breakdowns does get tiresome and a couple cuts (“The Mud”, “Hurt Goes On”) miss their mark. So yeah. Cool record but I didn’t go head-over-heels for it like everybody else did. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Vessels – Starset

 I went against the grain with this new Starset record too, the band’s second. Vessels fuses together Electronic Music, Butt Rock, and some djent-y modern Metalcore for a sugar sweet but unfulfilling outing full of excessively angsty hooks, non-guitar riffs, and such a thick layer of production that it’s impossible to tell if a single thing is performed by a human being. It’s unbelievably catchy at points, and I understand the appeal, but it’s not gonna be anything more than an occasional guilty pleasure for me. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Return of the Cool – Nick Grant

After stumbling across this Billboard article on Nick Grant last year, Return of the Cool quickly became one of my most anticipated debuts of 2017. With the momentum the 28-year-old Grant has behind him right now, I was ready to bear witness to the meteoric rise of Hip-Hop’s next breakout star – and most of all, I was ready to hear soul and lyricism reinstated in Southern Hip-Hop (not to say I dislike what’s going on down there right now, but, I did grow up with ATLIENS as my bible). On Return of the Cool, the South Carolina native shows some promise and a bit of an old school flair, but the project disappointed the hell out of me. The painfully generic “Bouncin’” could’ve been made by ANY of Grant’s contemporaries (Logic, J. Cole, Big Sean Kendrick, etc.). And despite references to icons like Lauryn Hill and Nas, Grant doesn’t do much to uphold their standards with lines like “curves driving me crazy, I need some counseling”. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Search For Everything (Wave One) – John Mayer

 My fellow Pretentious Fairfield County, CT Douchebag is employing an adventurous and exciting release strategy for his seventh LP – he’s releasing four songs at a time in monthly “waves”. In the uncertain and uneasy free-for-all that is music promotion in 2017, I’m so glad to see someone with Mayer’s clout try a different approach. As for the music on “Wave One”? Simply put, three out of four songs connected for me. Most notably, however, I was psyched to see Mayer take a break from the genre gymnastics of his last few releases and just pen some straight ahead, no frills Pop tunes. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Machine Messiah – Sepultura

 Growing up, I thought all you had to know about Sepultura occurred in the less-than-4-hour combined run time of Beneath the Remains, Chaos A.D., Arise, and Roots. I still sorta feel that way, but I was curious to hear Machine Messiah, which is now the band’s eighth (!) as Sepultura 2.0 since Derrick Green took over on vocals in 1997 (by comparison, they only made six LPs with Max Cavalera). So I felt behind.And I gotta say, I’m impressed with this current incarnation’s mix of Thrash, Groove Metal, a bit of Extreme Metal,, and the most thrilling surprise, a symphonic element on tracks like “Sworn Oath” and “Resistant Parasites”! Worth checking out if you’re like me and have only ever known “classic Sepultura”. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 Culture – Migos

Around 20 million people were watching the Golden Globes when, two weeks before the release of their sophomore album, Donald Glover unexpectedly shouted out the Migos during an acceptance speech (his PHENOMENAL tv show Atlanta took home two awards that night). And with Culture, it’s safe to say the Migos are seizing their moment in the sun. This LP is the EPITOME of the Atlanta-based trap sound: Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff hop on these knocking instrumentals (one of the best collections of trap beats I have ever heard) with colorful ad-libs, tons of charisma, and memorable refrains. I mean, how could you not just throw on a track like “T-Shirt” or “Call Casting” and vibe out? Historically , I’m into Rap like this, so I’m gonna need some more time with it, but Culture just might be an unexpected 2017 favorite. RECOMMENDED

Gods of Violence – Kreator

 On album number fourteen from the legendary German thrashers, they delivered a collection of powerhouse Metal anthems and did so without being restricted by that old school Thrash “leash” that some of their veteran peers seem to be hindered by. As with its predecessor Phantom Antichrist, Gods of Violence draws on not just Thrash but Melodic Death Metal, streaks of classic NWOBHM, and a bit of lyrical inspiration from Viking Metal for a well-rounded listen. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

I See You – The xx

The third LP from these British indie poppers is chalk full of seductive nocturnal vibes that range from slightly spacey (“A Violent Noise”) to hipster nightclub-y (“Dangerous”) to just plain heart-wrenching (“Performance). While these guys’ music has never really “clicked” with me, I actually found myself enjoying a good chunk of this album! Unfortunately, one thing that bugs me is how overwhelmingly seriously these guys take themselves – at times, they oversell their emotions in an almost histrionic fashion that leaves me feeling a bit drained, like I’m not allowed to enjoy myself or something. Plus, Romy and Oliver just AREN’T the best singers from a technical standpoint. But it’s still a solid LP, definitely The xx’s best yet! RECOMMENDED

AFI (The Blood Album) – AFI

 Call it nostalgia, call it glass half full, call it “a retard who knows nothing about anything” like you all love to do on YouTube, but AFI fucking BROUGHT it this time around, in a way they haven’t in over a decade! I’m serious. “White Offerings” is PURE Sing the Sorrow (the band’s landmark 2003 release – a childhood favorite of mine), while the sharp riffing in “Hidden Knives” does the song’s title justice, and tracks like “Pink Eyes” and “Snow Cats” have all the makings of hit songs (particularly the latter, with its irresistible call-and-response chorus). I’m just shocked at how into this record I am. The Blood Album is the OGs sending the new bucks back to the drawing board. These songs completely justify my endless shit talking about all these wack ass “emo” bands that are coming up on Warped Tour – this is what they should shoot for. A thoughtful melding of Punk, Post-Hardcore, and Hard Rock, The Blood Album proves that AFI still set the standard. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Migration – Bonobo

As easy on the ears as this record is, it DOES tend to drift to the background as you listen to it. The gentle, serene touch of “Break Apart” and the ambience of “Grains” are some of the most pleasant sounds you’re likely to hear from Electronic Music all year, but Migration is not the most outwardly engaging of listens. Of course, you could take that in whatever connotation you’d like! ‘Cause I don’t have any “critiques” here – just my personal experience with this LP, which is that it’s a more passive listen than his early works like Dial “M” for Monkey, which was my favorite album when I was sixteen. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot to like here, and it’s 100 percent worth a listen, but it hasn’t gotten much repeated love from me. RECOMMENDED