September 2019 Album Round Up!

What’s up guys! Another month, another Album Round Up. Below is a quick run-through of all the records I checked out this month:

As I Lay Dying – Shaped By Fire: Seven years and one attempted murder charge later (yep, I went there), Metalcore veterans As I Lay Dying are back in business. And I had a lot to say. Some of my key critiques of this album include whiny, poorly executed clean choruses, copy-and-pasted songwriting for their last few releases, and at least one track that’s just bad across the board. But I (pun intended) WARMED up to this album as time went on, and ended up finding a lot to enjoy. Full review here. RECOMMENDED.

Betraying the Martyrs – Rapture: I’m glad I finally swallowed my pride and gave a true-blue “Verb-the-Noun” band a shot. Sure, I had plenty of critiques for Rapture (the French Deathcore upstarts’ fourth LP to be released on Sumerian Records), but I went in hoping to be pleasantly surprised, and I WAS, mainly by the pure Death Metal fury of the title cut and the “Iron Gates” as well as the formidable two-guitar songwriting on the single “Down”. Full review here. RECOMMENDED

Blink-182 – NINE: All the way back to my formative years, I’ve never been a Blink fan. So why I keep taking their new releases exceedingly seriously (2016’s California being another example) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. As I explain here, I’m always gonna cherry pick a couple of instantly catchy tunes and discard the rest. And that’s what I did here with the ballad “Heaven”, and to a lesser extent cuts like “Black Rain” and “I Really Wish I Hated You”. See you guys in 2022 for another three songs! NOT RECOMMENDED.

Cashmere Cat – Princess Catgirl: Possibly my favorite album I heard all month, Cashmere Cat’s ability to pull so much emotion out of cheesy Kanye-esque chipmunk vocals and glitchy EDM tropes astonished me. Dude, it’s 19 minutes long. Do yourself a favor and go listen to it. It’ll make you feel like you’re in a romantic, utopian video game. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Opeth – In Cauda Venenum: Far and away the worst of the “screamless 2010s” era of these Swedish Prog Metal legends, I found In Cauda Venenum to be dreadfully boring. Songs like “The Garroter” make me feel like I’m trapped for hours on end in the most depressing vintage record store ever, surrounded by rare Pink Floyd vinyls that not even Pink Floyd themselves give a shit about, wondering how the hell the owners can afford their rent. I’m not opposed to “screamless Opeth” – I think it’s fantastic that Mikael Akerfeldt and co. had the balls to drastically change course two decades into their career – but I AM opposed to soullessness. And In Cauda Venenum is egregiously soulless. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Post Malone – Hollywood’s Bleeding: After Postie Boy shocked me (and virtually all music writers) with the excellent Beerbongs & Bentleys last April, I thought to myself “gee, I hope he doesn’t rush-release an overly commercial follow-up”. I guess I forgot to knock on wood. Ironically, Hollywood’s Bleeding boasts excellent singles – the irresistible Young Thug collab “Goodbyes” is perhaps my favorite Top 40 Radio song of all of 2019, and the unexpected shoegaze-y guitars in the “Circles” intro still get me every time – but once you get to deeper cuts like the nursery rhyme chorus of “Myself”, or the failed Weeknd attempt “Allergic”, the LP doesn’t hold up. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Sturgill Simpson – Sound and Fury: Simpon’s brand of Alt-Country is one of the only modern shades of the genre granted full acceptance by the “music writer crowd”, and listening to tracks like the rock-influenced “Remember to Breathe” or the funky synth-infused “A Good Look”, in which Simpson’s hearty twang is the only noticeable “Country” element anywhere in sight, you can see why. But that’s not Simpson’s fault. He continues to be a fearless experimenter and poignant lyricist on album highlights like “Make Art Not Friends”, the aforementioned “A Good Look”, and “All Said and Done”. A must-listen! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Zac Brown Band – The Owl

WOW. This is a (potentially unequivocal) contender for Worst Album of the Year. And “OMW” – in which the band recite a texting acronym and pass it off as a chorus – is an equally fierce contender for Worst Song of the Year. If “OMW” and “Me and the Boys in the Band” are the type of music Zac Brown and Co. want to make, then just go be Florida Georgia Line. Or join Florida Georgia Line and make one giant Pop-Country conglomerate with 32 members. It’s actually MORE offensive to me when they try to “return to their roots” with a late-album cut like “Shoofly Pie” buried in the tracklist. NOT RECOMMENDED.

A FEW MORE:

Enjoyed:

Cult of Luna – A Dawn to Fear

Eclipser – Pathos

Korn – The Nothing

The New Pornographers – In the Morse Code of Brake Lights

Tegan and Sara – Hey, I’m Just Like You

Didn’t Enjoy:

Charli XCX – Charli

JPEGMAFIA – All My Heroes Are Cornballs

Starset – Divisions

September 2016 Album Round Up!

Since I was three years old – to put that in context, since BEFORE the world witnessed Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio bang on the Titanic and her subsequent refusal to share a rather spacious floating door, choosing instead to let him die – this was the first non-Summer month that I have not spent in a classroom. That’s almost 20 years of steady structure tossed out the fucking window. It’s almost surreal, but in the immortal words of Blink-182, “I guess this is growing up.” And growing up meant that in September 2016 I was busier than I have ever been, working and interning for absurd hours, scrambling to find time for quality, in-depth listens of all of these new records, and trying to somehow squeeze out a social life and some gym hours. The whole listening-to-new-music thing worked out reasonably well, although the true release mayhem came RIGHT on September 30th, so I’m still catching my breath. But I’ve got a bunch of great stuff to recommend! Enjoy my ramblings, and hope you’re all looking forward to October as much as I am – it’s gonna be fucking STACKED!

Bad Vibrations – A Day To Remember

This Metalcore/Pop-Punk band’s last effort – 2013’s Common Courtesy – is one of my favorite albums ever. So I didn’t expect Bad Vibrations to meet that high water mark. In the end, I’m walking away feeling positive yet slightly underwhelmed. The first half of this LP is packed with some of ADTR’s best material to date, like “Bullfight”, “Naviety” (showcasing their poppier side), and the title track (showcasing their more aggressive side), but there are a few duds and filler tracks in the latter half (“Turn Off the Radio”, “Forgive and Forget”, “We Got This”) weighing it down. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight – Travis Scott

I was a bit late to the Travis Scott party, so the peculiarly titled Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight is the first time I’m experiencing his new music alongside the rest of the world. Scott’s hugely hyped sophomore full-length is not perfect, but it’s PACKED with bangers, and it’s been my go-to party album for the entire month. Particular highlights include “Coordinate”, “Goosebumps”, “Pick Up the Phone”, and “Through the Late Night”, the latter of which is the best thing Kid Cudi has been involved with in over half a decade. Between Birds and Young Thug’s Jeffery project last month, Hip-Hop is incredibly turnt right now. RECOMMENDED

Winter’s Gate – Insomnium 

I haven’t disliked a single album from these Finnish Melodeath masters, but “Winter’s Gate” is special. It’s a conceptual behemoth that meets the highest of Melodic Death Metal standards without ever getting ahead of itself. Along with Be’Lakor’s excellent Vessels LP this past June, Winter’s Gate proves that this style of Metal is as vital as it ever has been. You might see this one again when the time comes for “Best Albums of 2016” discussions. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Natural Causes – Skylar Grey

For her second album as Skylar Grey, the “Love the Way You Lie” songstress took a bold leap from the cookie cutter Pop of 2013’s Don’t Look Down into something much more spacey and ethereal. I was psyched about the transition and wanted more than anything to be blown away by the whole record, but in reality, I fell in love with a handful of tracks and could take or leave the rest. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Yellowcard – Yellowcard

Even though they’re one of my all-time favorites, Yellowcard’s swansong left me indifferent. There are some flashes of the Yellowcard that I grew up loving, but the track list suffers from what I call “ballad syndrome” – of 11 songs, 5 or 6 of them venture into ballad territory. That’s not ok for a Pop-Punk album, or any album for that matter. These slow cuts aren’t terrible, but it makes for a strange and uneven listen. Rather than going out with a bang or a whimper, Yellowcard went out with a polite wave goodbye. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown

On his fourth project, Danny Brown is once again an utterly singular Hip-Hop artist, from his unmistakable delivery, to his slightly avant-garde production, to his eccentric, drug-riddled storytelling. Don’t be fooled by his abrasive persona though; the guy can rap his ass off. Just check the gritty “Lost” or the star-studded “Really Doe”, the latter of which finds Brown holding his own with heavyweights like Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt. On second thought, scratch that “Really Doe” analysis, ‘cause “heavyweight” now describes Danny Brown too – he’s not only at the top of HIS game, he’s one of the most compelling rappers on the planet right now.

Creatures Watching Over the Dead – Charred Walls of the Damned

 Richard Christy, Steve DiGiorgio, Jason Suecof, and Tim “Ripper” Owens fire up their Metal supergroup again for album number three. This is BY FAR my favorite record of theirs. Hearing Ripper’s soaring, melodic vocals over some legitimately heavy riffs is particularly refreshing – I don’t know about you, but I get tired of the same throat-gurgling screams over everything. I love to hear a singer with old school PIPES, and the ex-Judas Priest frontman really brings it here. The melodies don’t stop at Ripper either – the track “Lies” is sent off with an ultra poppy riff and a sugary guitar solo that sounds like a Pop-Punk band got parachuted into a Metal anthem. Elsewhere, shit can get crushingly heavy (“The Soulless”), technically dazzling (Jason Suecof’s harmonized lead in “Tear Me Down”), and even thoughtful (“My Eyes”).The songs aren’t ALWAYS there, but the mastery these veterans exhibit over the genre is a true joy to listen to. RECOMMENDED

The Altar – Banks

Banks sophomore LP is a noticeable improvement over Goddess, her super hyped but slightly underwhelming debut. Plodding moments like “To the Hilt” and “Poltergeist” hurt the track list in its latter stages, but I’ll be damned if there’s aren’t some bonafide Alt-Pop smashes on here. “Gemini Feed” has proven to be a wise choice for a single, and “Trainwreck” continues in a similar vein. “This Is Not About Us” veers more toward the Electro-Pop route, while “Fuck With Myself” contains explicit Hip-Hop nods – the latter a display of swaggering attitude previously absent in Banks’ music. She’s definitely headed in the right direction; in the future, I’d love to see her further explore the edgier side that she began to tap into with The Altar. RECOMMENDED

The Divine Feminine – Mac Miller

Mac Miller’s best album to date is vulnerable, sensual, and loosely conceptual, dealing almost exclusively with love, sex, relationships, and women. Never an MC who could quite carry a full-length on his own, Mac leans on his talented guests with the perfect amount of weight, whether it’s Anderson .Paak on the fun and upbeat “Dang!”, Ty Dolla $ign on the DJ Dahi-produced “Cinderella” (the LP’s best song by far), Kendrick Lamar on the closer “God Is Fair Sexy Nasty”, or his boo thang Ariana Grande on “My Favorite Part”. I am beyond impressed with Mac’s wholehearted commitment to exploring, developing and delivering something totally different from the rest of his catalogue. Love it or hate it, you’re unlikely to hear another Hip-Hop record quite like this one in 2016. RECOMMENDED

Sorceress – Opeth

It’s a crying shame that I haven’t had the time to give this album the full review treatment, but October’s going to be the busiest fucking month of the year and I don’t want to fall behind. It’s only been out for a week, but here are my two cents: if I want Still Life or Blackwater Park Opeth, I can continue to wear out those fucking records to death. I ENCOURAGE stylistic change, as long as the music is up to par. And Sorceress is easily the best of Opeth’s 2010s output – that dramatic, fan-dividing shift in Mikael’s vocal delivery finally feels at home amongst these proggy yet catchy tunes. At the time of the initial transition on 2011’s Heritage, it felt like career suicide, but Sorceress justifies the creative decisions Opeth have made these past few years. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Schmilco – Wilco

Wilco’s tenth album is delivered with the same modest indie spirit that I’ve associated with them since I first heard AM as a 14-year-old. Schmilco is laid back, chill as fuck, and most importantly, it’s folky without those big cheesy pop hooks vacuuming the life out of it (looking at you, Mumford & Sons, how’s it going?). It didn’t knock my world off its axis or anything, but it’s exactly what I anticipated. Can’t be mad at that. RECOMMENDED