January 2018 Album Round Up!

Happy Super Bowl Sunday everyone! One of my favorite days of the entire year…

Not because of the game itself, mind you – but because Football finally fucking ends.

I didn’t like the sport when I was eight years old and refusing to drink the peewee football Kool-Aid, and I like it even less now as a grown man who has literally lost touch with friends because I won’t play fantasy football. So once this game comes and goes, it’ll be nice to not have to hear about Tom Brady for the next six months. That being said, I AM looking forward to JT’s halftime performance!

In other news, I just hit 500 subscribers on my YouTube channel which I’m incredibly psyched about! If you’re one of those 500 people, thank you so much! It means the world to me to have your support. And wait ‘til you see what I have in store for the channel this year! I have never been more inspired or motivated.

Music-wise, I’d say 2018 is off to a pretty solid start. Hip-Hop seems to be lagging behind a bit (I’m looking at YOU, Migos), but we’ve still got 11 months for it to catch up. And I’m sure it will. Looking at my ever-expanding “2018 Album Releases” spreadsheet on my desktop, I see zero reason why this year can’t be something special.

Ok, rant over. Here’s everything I’ve been listening to since my New Year’s hangover finally subsided:

Camila – Camila Cabello

 Since she turned Fifth Harmony into Fourth Harmony in 2016 by exiting the group to pursue her solo career, Camila Cabello has been on a seemingly unstoppable trajectory to superstardom. And her chart-topping debut not only confirms her commercial might, but also hints at some genuine artistic potential. The acoustic-driven “Real Friends” is a thoughtful meditation on fame and the superficial relationships that spring from it. By contrast, “In the Dark” explores the dynamics of celebrity romance, and how public figures often struggle to open up in their private lives. Then there’s the rousing dancehall number “She Loves Control”, which brings with it a production assist from Skrillex. And of course, singles “Havana” and “Never Be the Same” are already bonafide hits, and my prediction is that at least two more smashes from this track list will followI was pleasantly surprised by this LP and was really glad I gave it a chance. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Catharsis – Machine Head

 Likely to be one of the most heavily debated Metal records of the entire year, Machine Head’s divisive ninth record is definitely messy. Listening to Catharsis, you’ll get a barrage of questionable lyrics, more than your fair share of guitar riffs that fall flat, and you’ll endure some head-scratching stylistic “adventures”. But Catharsis also reminded me of one of the most important principles I live by as a music fan: NEVER make a snap judgment on anything. ‘Cause once I lived with this album for a few days, I came to find that there was a lot to enjoy on it too, from the anthemic title track to the menacing “Heavy Lies the Crown” to the succinct but powerful “Kaleidoscope”. And I decided that – by a thin margin, mind you – the positives outweigh the negatives with this one. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Dark Horse – Devin Dawson

If I had to pick an album of the month, here it is. Country artist Devin Dawson’s debut release immediately impresses with in its delicate balance of Country and Pop on songs like “I Can’t Trust Myself” and the Hot 100 hit “All On Me”. But Dawson also works in rock music (“Prison”), heartland sounds (“Placebo”), and Alternative singer-songwriter-isms (“Symptoms”) into these twang-y arrangements. My favorite thing about the LP, however, is Dawson’s ability to put together super relatable concept-driven lyrics: see his unique break-up song angle on “Secondhand Hurt”, his colorful depiction of a bitter ex on “War Paint”, or the passionate– if socially apathetic – lover who narrates “I Don’t Care Who Sees”. Definitely an artist to watch! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Mania – Fall Out Boy

 Despite the rest of the world leading me to believe this would be the worst thing I would ever hear, Fall Out Boy’s polarizing seventh LP really isn’t that bad. Sure, the opening track and lead single “Young and Menace” is a dud – a clunky, ill-advised EDM attempt. And yes, “Sunshine Riptide” could’ve done without that forced collaboration with Nigerian Reggae artist Burna Boy. But amongst these underwhelming ditties are standouts like “Bishops Knife Trick”, the stadium-ready ballad that closes the album out, as well as the high-energy, ultra-quotable “Last of the Real Ones”, and even the Tropical House experiment that is “Hold Me Tight or Don’t”. So while I wouldn’t necessarily hold this album in high esteem, it’s not an absolute TRAGEDY either – it’s more or less just somewhere in the middle. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Vale – Black Veil Brides

Almost eight years ago now, I checked out Black Veil Brides’ super-hyped debut album We Stitch These Wounds and quickly wrote it off as – at best – Bullet For My Valentine-lite. Then, the band got bigger and bigger and bigger. They notched three straight top ten albums, they were getting booked on major tours supporting the likes of Avenged Sevenfold, Motley Crue, and Slash, and they had apparently changed their sound into something a bit more “Rock-oriented”. So, with album number five here, I decided to give them a chance. And, I regret it. The lyrics – consisting of lines like “shout it from the tallest building”, the usage of the dreaded “fade away” cliche in a handful of songs, and worst of all, a steady stream of filler “woah oh’s” the other 20 percent of the time – are horribly corny. And the music? It’s nothing to write home about. The band oversaturate every song with Avenged Sevenfold-lite guitar harmonies, make every chorus excessively dramatic, and bring only one genuinely heavy riff on the whole LP (“My Vow”). Glad I satisfied my curiosity I suppose, but I’ll pass. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Grimmest Hits – Black Label Society

Yikes. Maybe it’s me….it could very well be me. After all, a lot about my tastes has changed since the last record I dove into from the Zakk Wylde-fronted hard rockers (2010’s Order of the Black). But, man. I found Grimmest Hits to be excruciatingly boring. And ironically, doesn’t BLS have a song called “Bored to Tears” in their back catalogue? Well, they understand how I feel then. The recycled riffs don’t excite me, the vocals often sound uninspired (see verse one of “The Betrayal”), and the muddy mix doesn’t help matters either. Sounds like Zakk and the boys need to tweak their formula the next time around. Or maybe Zakk should just make Book of Shadows III instead. NOT RECOMMENDED

P2 – Dave East

With his acute sense of Golden Age lyricism, strong emphasis on narrative-focused rhymes, and gritty authenticity, Harlem MC Dave East has been one of the up-and-comers in Hip-Hop that I’ve most been rooting for these past couple years. Unfortunately, last year’s PARANOIA: A TRUE STORY project left me slightly disappointed with its lack of focus and a bit of filler. But the good news? P2 is East in tip-top form. Whether he’s paying homage to his inspirations on “What Made Me”, or holding his own in a toe-to-toe bar fest with Lloyd Banks on “Violent”, or telling blood-soaked hood tales in late-90s Nas fashion on “I Found Keisha”, the dude impresses me every step of the way. This is the first great Hip-Hop release I’ve heard in 2018 thus far. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

No Cross No Crown – Corrosion of Conformity

 Take notes, Black Label Society. This is some sludgy, southern-tinged Hard Rock that manages to be dirty, mean, and melodic all at the same time. Reunited with classic-era frontman Pepper Keenan, the band rip through groovy Sabbath-isms like “Luddite” and stomping rockers like “Forgive Me” with remarkable ease. And the moody title cut was also a highlight for me – it added a different flavor to this track list. While it may run a shade too long and not quite match up with early C.o.C. gems like 1994’s Deliverance, No Cross No Crown definitely does the trick. RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Avatar Country – Avatar

Infernal Overdrive – White Wizzard

Ephorize – CupcakKe

Collateral – Phillip Phillips

King Chop 2 – Young Chop

Life of a Dark Rose – Lil’ Skies

Common Ground – Above and Beyond

DON’T LIKE:

Wrong Creatures – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Sign of the Dragonhead – Leaves Eyes

Underworld – Tonight Alive

For My Fans – Fetty Wap

Defy – Of Mice & Men

Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue – Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals

Culture II – Migos

 

 

Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2017

Happy holidays everyone!

Oh wait, we’re like a year into the whole “Donald Trump is president” thing. My bad.

In one of the most hilariously ridiculous speeches of his presidency thus far – bold statement, I know – Donald Trump made a promise that as a nation, we’re all gonna go back to saying “Merry Christmas” like we did before things got all politically correct. “Times have changed, but we’re changing them back,” he insisted. It reminded me of that infamous Jason Kidd speech where he said “we’re gonna turn this team around 360 degrees”.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump talking all bigly about his yuuuuge plans for this great nation didn’t at all sway my December rhetoric. I did what I do every year – I wished an awkward mix of “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays”, depending on what kind of mood I was in, who was around, and how Christian-y the vibe was.

Joking aside, whatever Winter holiday you and your family celebrate – whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or one of those Pagan things – I hope you find joy, laughter, relaxation, and, of course, good food in the company of your loved ones, and I hope you head into 2018 with the wide-eyed optimism of a six-year-old boy.

Anyway, for my first of FIVE 2017 year-end lists – you’re gonna head over to my YouTube channel to see the rest of them in the next week and a half – we’re gonna talk Hip-Hop. And boy is there a lot of ground to cover.

2017 was another banner year for Rap music, sure. Any monkey with a Twitter account and @ComplexMusic and @XXL in his feed could piece that one together. But even better, it was a year defined by the unexpected. Both positive AND negative, I may add. Here are some things that happened in Hip-Hop this year that I couldn’t have possibly foreseen:

  • The Migos made a Trap album that is literally listenable (and enjoyable) from beginning to end
  • Eminem dropped a turd that makes 2004’s Encore look like a masterpiece
  • CyHi the Prynce’s long-awaited debut somehow lived up to over seven years of album-less hype
  • Jay-Z snapped out of his whole “I only rap to sponsor my art collection” mindset and made his best music since 2003
  • EDM superstar Calvin Harris put Snoop Dogg, Travis Scott, Migos, ScHoolboy Q, Lil’ Yachty, Future, Big Sean, Nicki Minaj, and Frank Ocean on one project. And it worked.
  • Macklemore and a mumble rapper made a song together and it ended up being ten times worse than my limited imagination could’ve even conjured up

So as you can see, it’s been an exciting 12 months. And I’m glad to be done making this list, ‘cause I spent DAYS stressing out about it (especially those #5 – #7 slots!). I really hope my thoughts are informative or, at the very least, mildly entertaining. Honorable Mentions are at the bottom. See you all in 2018!

10. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY – VIC MENSA

 On his debut album for Roc Nation, after a few years of increasing buzz and the immense pressure and anticipation that comes with being a Kanye West protégé, Vic Mensa leapfrogs over the already-lofty expectations set for him with, well, one of the best Hip-Hop albums of the entire year. The Autobiography proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mensa’s got all of the makings of a bonafide Rap superstar. He can make rousing bangers with the best of them, as shown on the Kid-Cudi-meets- Travis-Scott party tune “Rollin’ Like a Stoner” as well as the Chief Keef-assisted hood anthem “Down for Some Ignorance”; he can tell stories (“Homewrecker”), he can be deeply introspective (“Wings”), and he can even make the ladies swoon when he steps out from under his self-loathing (“Gorgeous”).

Not to mention, the guy can collaborate too – the aforementioned tracks round up the likes of Chief Keef, Syd, Pharrell Williams, and even Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, making for a colorful but cohesive tracklist. Mensa’s one of the most promising young Hip-Hop artists in the game right now.

 Top 3 Tracks: “Homewrecker”, “Gorgeous”, “Wings”

9. PRETTY GIRLS LIKE TRAP MUSIC – 2 CHAINZ

 Perhaps the most unexpected entry on this list, 2 Chainz flushed over a decade of ratchet mediocrity down the toilet and knocked the clumsily-titled Pretty Girls Like Trap Music into the stratosphere. As a rapper, beat-picker, hook-crafter, and overall larger-than-life personality, 2 Chainz has never sounded sharper. While the over-the-top ridiculousness of his bars remains a key part of his charm – in particular, the line “I got a bank account, got anotha bank account, got anotha bank account” is my single favorite line of 2017 (which, by the way, given that the FDIC only insurances up to $250,000 per account, this is probably a financially savvy move on his part) – this time around, he has the endless flow and compelling rhymes to back it up.

And his ability to use the occasional guest to light a fire under his ass – Travis Scott Nicki Minaj, Swae Lee, Migos, and Drake all ANNIHILATE the tracks they show up on – helps propel Pretty Girls Like Trap Music into every worthwhile “Best Hip-Hop of 2017” conversation.

Top 3 Tracks: “Blue Cheese”, “Realize”, “Good Drank”

8. FLOWER BOY – TYLER, THE CREATOR

What beautiful irony that an artist like Tyler, The Creator – who rose to prominence by being infinitely rebellious and anti-everything – made his best material to date by softening his edges and buddying up with an industry juggernaut (Columbia Records) for its release.

Production-wise, Flower Boy is perhaps my favorite on this list, bringing together sounds that range from cinematic to insular to manic to just plain weird. Yet the true excellence of the LP lies in Tyler’s undeniable maturation.

By getting unapologetically sappy (“See You Again”), wistfully nostalgic (“November”) and heartbreakingly vulnerable (“911/Mr. Lonely”) alongside his usual aggression and quirks (“Who Dat Boy”, “I Ain’t Got Time!”), Tyler has successfully transitioned from odd-but-compelling enigma to fully formed, three-dimensional artist.

Top 3 Tracks: “November”, “911/Mr. Lonely”, “See You Again”

7. CAPTAIN CALIFORNIA – MURS

That my list will likely be the ONLY year-end Hip-Hop List to give Murs his due is nothing short of a tragedy. On his sixth LP and second for Tech N9ne’s Strange Music label, the California MC shows an elastic emotional range that is extremely hard to come by in Hip-Hop. On the opening track “Lemon Juice”, he and guest Curtiss King will have you cackling uncontrollably as they try to compete for a girl’s attention. Cuts like “God Bless Kanye West” and “G is for Gentrify” will have you mulling over today’s socioeconomic climate. On touching love songs like “1000 Suns” and “Another Round”, Murs will have you reflecting on your best romantic relationships or dreaming of ones like his. On “One Uh Those Days”, he’ll have you carefully following along with his detailed storytelling right up until the hilarious twist ending. It’s time people get their shit together and start paying attention to this talented motherfucker.

Top 3 Tracks: “Lemon Juice”, “1000 Suns”, “Colossus”

6. 4EVA IS A MIGHTY LONG TIME – BIG K.R.I.T.

 While it would’ve been virtually impossible to top 2014’s Cadillactica – an adventurous space-themed concept album that remains one of the finest moments of the genre this decade – Justin Scott continues to build his case as one of the great Southern rappers, filling the shoes of giants like UGK, Outkast and T.I. with ease. This sprawling double-album is split into a more bravado-driven “Big K.R.I.T. half” and a more introspective “Justin Scott half”, with both discs pulling their weight equally, from the most trunk-knocking moments (“ Subenstein”, “Big Bank”) to the most naked and confessional (“Price of Fame”, Mixed Messages”). As I continue to preach the gospel of Big K.R.I.T., I have yet another holy text to read from to convert people to the cause. And thanks to people like ANTHONY FANTANO, they really are doing so.

Top 3 Tracks: “Get Away”, “Mixed Messages”, “Miss Georgia Fornia”

5. NO DOPE ON SUNDAYS – CYHI THE PRYNCE

 I can’t think of a single Hip-Hop album that has been delayed as long as this one and actually LIVED UP to the impossible hype. But that’s exactly what Kanye’s finest protégé managed to do. Besides creating the most lyrically monstrous album on this whole list, on No Dope on Sundays Cyhi the Prynce still manages to stay focused on well-crafted songs, thought-provoking content, and carefully-placed features (in particular, Travis Scott, BJ the Chicago Kid, and ScHoolboy Q kill it here). And to top it all off, CyHi ties everything together with a powerful theme that contrasts spirituality and street life.

Plus, the amount of times I’ve used the expression “get your money and get out the game” in REAL LIFE since hearing this album….that alone earns it a spot in the Top five.

Top 3 Tracks: “I’m Fine”, “No Dope on Sundays”, “Movin’ Around”

4. LAST CALL – RITTZ

 On his final album for Strange Music, this double time-spittin’ white boy once again comes through with a body of work that feels like it’s been made specifically for me. Seriously, this motherfucker checks every box.

  • Emotionally, it covers the entire spectrum, from the tear-jerking “Fuck Cancer” to the ferocious “Into the Sky” (which, by the way, are back-to-back in the tracklist).
  • When appropriate, it’s as introspective as Hip-Hop can get, as showcased on the childhood woes of “Press Rewind” and the modern-day neuroses of “I’m Only Human”
  • From a technical rapping standpoint, Rittz once again has few equals – just check the standout single “Down for Mine” or the stirring opener “Middle of Nowhere” for proof
  • And yet again, Rittz’s ability to sing his own hooks makes him a complete, self-sufficient artist. No big features or name-dropping needed here; this one guy can keep you engaged for over an hour.

Top 3 Tracks: “Crash and Burn”, “Into the Sky”, Down for Mine”

3. DAMN. – KENDRICK LAMAR

 While 2015’s expansive, ambitious To Pimp a Butterfly endeared him to critics and solidified his place in Hip-Hop history, this time around it’s Kendrick Lamar’s fundamentals that make him stand out. At the end of the day, Kung Fu Kenny is just a dope fucking rapper. I never get tired of hearing him rap – his unending supply of creative flows, intricate rhyme structures, and nuanced perspectives ensure that Lamar can sound good on any beat.

But beyond Kendrick’s ability as an MC, my favorite thing about DAMN. is how emotionally raw it is. K-Dot’s music has always carried with it an underlying depression, anxiety and vicious inner conflict– which has been occasionally brought to the forefront on tracks like TPAB’s “u” – but DAMN. takes this to a whole new level. This is a 14-track therapy session, with intense feelings flying every which way like bullets during D-Day. And as a listener who prefers this type of psychological mayhem, I find it to be some of the most gripping work of Kendrick Lamar’s already-historic career.

Top 3 Tracks: “ELEMENT.”, “FEAR.”, “PRIDE.”

2. TRIAL BY FIRE – YELAWOLF

 Against all odds – and when I say ALL ODDS, I mean over seven years of artistic decline since his initial burst of hype and at least one race-related controversy – Rap’s most divisive white trash Hick-Hopper pulled through with, simply put, one of the most unique “Hip-Hop” records I’ve ever heard.

On Trial By Fire, the Alabama native weaves together various shades of Country, Folk, Rock, Blues – and yes, in the midst of all that, a guest appearance from Juicy motherfuckin’ J – into his well-studied rhyming abilities to make the kind of album that no one else could make. Sure, COUNTRY AND RAP MUSIC have had their history together (LINK), but not in a way that hasn’t compromised or caricaturized either side of the spectrum. That is, until exhilarating mish-mashes on this LP like “Punk”, which contains the aforementioned Juicy J feature.

Yelawolf also bares his soul on these 14 tracks, and has a novelists’ eye for storytelling (seriously, check the haunting “Sabrina” or the sentimentally autobiographical “Keeps Me Alive” for some hardcore evidence), bringing these Southern soundscapes to life with each and every verse. On “Ride or Die”, a heartfelt tribute to a day one friend, I can actually picture Yela sitting on a front porch somewhere in Alabama strumming his guitar and staring out into miles of farmland.

 And for me, there’s a personal angle to this as well. Trial by Fire represents the ultimate escapism. It’s an album that whisks me away from my Yuppie tri-state surroundings to long, winding dirt roads, musky dive bars with Harleys parked out front, and remote stretches of land with nothing but grass and the gentle breeze that nudges it from side to side. So I suppose my increasing infatuation with the rural South has fed my love of Trial by Fire. But still, whether you end up smitten like I am or deeply unimpressed, this is music you need to hear.

Top 3 Tracks: “Ride or Die”, “Punk”, “Son of a Gun”

 1. ALL THE BEAUTY IN THIS WHOLE LIFE – BROTHER ALI

As I gushed at the middle of the year, Brother Ali made the kind of special album that makes me happy to be alive. With top-notch production from Ant of Atmosphere ensuring that it’s sonically rapturous, Ali is free to tackle weighty subject matter; sensitive topics that he handles gracefully, I might add. Beauty covers everything from race (“Dear Black Son”, “Before They Called You White”) to pornography (“The Bitten Apple”) to suicide (“Out of Here”) to Ali’s own childhood struggles (“Pray For Me”) sending your emotions every which way in the process. When you combine Ali’s raw talent on the mic with food-for-thought content, gorgeous instrumentals, and hooks like the infectious single “Own Light”, it’s impossible to lose.

Top 3 Tracks: “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)”, “Out of Here”, “All the Beauty in This Whole Life”

Some Honorable Mentions:

Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples

Culture – Migos

Radio Silence – Talib Kweli

All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ – Joey Bada$$

At What Cost – Goldlink

4:44 – Jay-Z

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream – Open Mike Eagle

Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross

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