October 2016 Album Round Up!

Back in August I forecasted music release bedlam for the month of October, and boy was I right! Among the albums I heard but didn’t write up here: The Dillinger Escape Plan, Meshuggah, Jimmy Eat World, Darkthrone, and OneRepublic.

Among the albums I didn’t even get to hear yet: Candiria, Red Fang, Wormrot, The Game, Serpentine Dominion, NxWorries, and many, many more!

But I’m sure I’ll have some time to catch up next in the next few weeks – thankfully, the music industry’s about to lightly tap the brakes. But for now, I present to you my musings on what October 2016 had to offer!

The Last Hero – Alter Bridge

2013’s Fortress was Alter Bridge’s magnum opus – it found the band fully integrating a metallic edge into their accessible Hard Rock approach, walking a line only a select few have done successfully (white album Avenged Sevenfold, maybe?).Topping it was going to be next to impossible, but The Last Hero is an excellent follow-up. Once again, anthemic melody is co-existing harmoniously assaultive battering – just listen to “My Champion” and “Island of Fools back-to-back. I also gotta shout out the title track, which is a vast stylistic collage that even brings in some Extreme Metal elements. Aside from two misfires (“Twilight”, “You Will Be Remembered”), Alter Bridge hit another home run. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Stage – Avenged Sevenfold

Out of nowhere, A7X released a bonafide masterpiece that I had no idea they were capable of making. Back in a monstrous way is the wild experimentation that made City of Evil and the White Album so special. The band weaves every mood, every tempo, every groove, and every instrument imaginable into these 70-plus minutes. The dark lyrical concepts running through the LP – dystopia, the dangers of science, the human ego – are as riveting and emotionally potent as anything we’ve heard all year. Not to mention the tear-jerking narration from renowned scientist Neil Degrasse Tyson that closes out the record. An absolutely essential listen. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Hotel EP – Yelawolf

Yelawolf’s surprise EP takes the bluesy Folk Rap of last year’s Love Story LP – a record that was too bloated and self-indulgent for its own good – and marries it with the gritty, speedy, and wildly charismatic bars that made him famous in the first place. It’s the first full project I’ve enjoyed from Yela in several years, and it reignited my interest in what’s next for ol’ Catfish Billy. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Revolution Radio – Green Day

I’m absolutely baffled by how much I’m into this record! I went in with zero expectations, and was pleasantly surprised with a set of high-energy Pop-Punk offerings that made me feel like I’m in middle school again! (That feeling is nearly impossible to come by these days). Other than some poor lyrics (“Youngblood”) and some filler (“Too Dumb to Die”, “Forever Now”), I’m digging Green Day’s latest – the first album of theirs I’ve enjoyed since American Idiot. RECOMMENDED

Two Vines – Empire of the Sun

The Australian Electro duo’s best album yet! Compared with 2013’s Ice on the Dune – an album that has been the soundtrack to so many incredibly fun times for me – Two Vines is less banger-centric and more laid back and unassuming. It’s interesting that this LP came out in late October, because compared to its predecessor, it’s way less Summer-y and more tailored towards chilly late night drives. “ZZZ”, “Way To Go”, and “Before” are my favorite cuts on here. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Serenity of Suffering – Korn

Rolling Stone called this thing “turn-of-the-millenium Korn-by-numbers”, and they’re not wrong. There are zero new ideas on this album. That being said, it’s earning a lot of praise from Metalheads because it’s Korn “returning to form”, per se. And on tracks like “Black is the Soul”, with its dissonant riffage, and lead single “Insane”, with its brooding refrain, that rings true. But its detractors also have a point, especially in the latter half of the LP – you can’t seriously argue that the chorus to “When You’re Not There”, for instance, is anything but a snoozefest. But if you’re looking for an intense, cathartic expulsion of all of your fucked up feelings, or you’re just curious what late-90s Korn would sound like with modern, cleaner production, give this thing a whirl. RECOMMENDED

Joanne – Lady GaGa

 What a colossal fucking disappointment. GaGa dulled her edges, stripped away all the kooky eccentricity, and what’s left is a record with zero personality. Vocally she delivers some great performances, but everything feels so lifeless and uninspired. It’s tough to explain, honestly, ‘cause the songs seem like they should “work”, but when I try and  connect with them, they feel stiff and aloof. I was totally ready to embrace a mature GaGa, but I’m astonished at how much I didn’t like Joanne. Maybe it’ll grow on me, but for now? BLEHHH. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Brotherhood of the Snake – Testament

If you’re on the prowl for 45 minutes of straight Thrash action from one of the Bay Area OGs, Brotherhood of the Snake cannot possibly let you down. But this LP is not nearly as catchy, intricate or dynamic as the band’s 2012 masterpiece Dark Roots of Earth. Not to say it doesn’t perform as advertised – it’s got some ripping thrashers in the vein of their classic records – but it offers nothing beyond that, which left me (ever so slightly) disappointed, especially in comparison with Dark Roots. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Rage & the Machine – Joe Budden 

Even though I dug his last album (2015’s All Love Lost), I was pleasantly surprised to find that Rage & the Machine isn’t another complete mopefest exclusively about breakups, depression, and self-pity (believe me, I love that shit though). On album number six, Joey diversifies things – there’s sample-heavy boom bap, hype trap-influenced shit, and R&B-tinged moments as well, all providing a soundscape for his usual dense rhymes. “Wrong One” is a slapper and a half – ArraabMusik’s beat (he produced basically the whole project) goes SO fucking hard. “Serious” is a menacing duet with Budden’s Slaughterhouse compatriot Joell Ortiz. But there are several misses too – Fabolous’ sing-song flow on “Flex” is terrible enough to drag the entire album down on its own, and “By Law” bores me to tears. As a big Budden fan, I got some great new jams out of this, but I’m still waiting for the hooks, the narrative, the bars, and the beats to all add up into a single classic project. RECOMMENDED

 Three – Phantogram

 Phantogram’s dramatic, occasionally theatrical third LP is their best yet. I especially enjoy how the often bleak lyrics pair equally well with hard-hitting synths, dreamy, shoegaze-y landscapes, and some of the more Hip-Hop based production. But I’m not in love with everything here – namely, the irritating hook on “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” and the plodding “Barking Dog”. Overall, Three is a concise crash course in the many facets of the Phantogram sound, which you can broadly label as “Alternative”, but which gets pretty sophisticated when you try and whittle the versatile duo down to a single subgenre. RECOMMENDED

DC4 – Meek Mill

Zzzz……I usually listen to these albums at least three to five times, but I made it through three songs on this one. Same ol’ same ol’. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Whole of the Law – Anaal Nathrakh

Listening to Anaal Nathrakh’s eclectic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to Extreme Metal is like playing subgenre I Spy. In a matter of seconds, these motherfuckers will cycle through Grindcore, Black Metal, Death Metal, Power Metal, and God knows what else, making for a uniquely exhilarating listening experience. There has yet to be a major misstep in the band’s catalogue, but “The Whole of the Law” might just be their best in a decade. Sure, you can criticize this record for being a bit wonky and over-the-top, but that’s EXACTLY why I love it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Breathe in the Water – Kyng

Kyng’s throwback blend of Hard Rock and Metal continues to work on album number three. You can find Breathe in the Water at a delightful intersection between Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, and Baronness.“Pristine Warning”, “Bipolar Schemes”, and the title track all pack quite the punch in the riff category. I just wish this band would get the fucking attention they deserve! RECOMMENDED

 

 

 

 

May 2016 Album Round Up!

Here it is everybody! Below is a recap of ten releases from this past month that I was checking out. I fucking finished college while these albums were dropping…so I’m finally free to allocate more precious brainpower for passions like this! Looking ahead, I’m incredibly psyched for the avalanche of big records dropping this coming month. Stay tuned for reviews, rants, and one of my personal favorite endeavors, mid-year lists!

(PS: I did not include Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool here because I STILL haven’t wrapped my head around it. I’m not going to disingenuously hurry my thoughts in the absence of a firm verdict.)

The Concrete Confessional – Hatebreed

Hatebreed’s seventh album is a solid offering, with crushing modern classics like “A.D.”, “Remember When”, “Seven Enemies”, “Serve Your Masters” and the near-perfect “Something’s Off”. For much of the LP, Jamey Jasta veers away from the typical Hatebreed optimism and dives into some dark and confrontational subject matter, which adds substantial muscle and does wonders for the album’s vicious aesthetic. Unfortunately, there are three or four fillers weighing the track list down. But overall, diehards will be stoked. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Misadventures – Pierce the Veil

I went into this one completely cold. Sure, Pierce the Veil is a name I’ve heard tossed around a fair amount. But I’ve never heard a note of their music. Given that I haven’t loved a post-hardcore record in quite a while, it was time to take a crack at something like Misadventures. And my God am I glad I did. These 11 tracks feature fantastically written hooks and tight, reasonably heterogeneous compositions. It’s an efficient 44 minutes, whether it’s the explosive pop-punk of “Circles”, the thumping midtempo of “Bedless”, or doses of Metal on “Dive In”. A worthy successor to genre benchmarks like AFI’s Sing the Sorrow, yet revitalized for 2016. RECOMMENDED

At Night, Alone. – Mike Posner

This was so fucking frustrating. Not only did Posner have a stellar pop smash on his hands with Seeb’s remix of “I Took a Pill in Ibiza”, but I was 100 percent on board with the concept of At Night, Alone. “Maybe this’ll be another Man on the Moon type album,” I thought to myself gleefully. And the first four tracks suggest that – the subdued version of “Ibiza” is great, with an additional third verse that rounds the song out, and “Be as You Are” is some sweet mother-son bonding. But all that is quickly ruined by the stomping “Silence”, the acapella “Only God Knows”, and the bouncy “Jade”, all of which completely disrupt the mood of the LP. I can barely listen to these songs at all, much less at night alone. Posner is talented, and I still believe in him, but At Night, Alone failed to commit to and execute its theme. NOT RECOMMENDED

Top of the Line – Rittz

“Third time’s the charm,” says Georgia double-time spitter Rittz on the opener to album number three. The standard edition of Top of the Line clocks in at just under 75 minutes, but it’s remarkably consistent despite its lengthy run time. A workhorse, the Strange Music signee and Yelawolf protégé is incredibly meticulous with his bars, making for a rewarding listen for lyricism purists. The LP is often deeply and heartbreakingly personal, addressing fun and bubbly topics like infidelity, drug addiction, and suicide. Rittz isn’t afraid to give the white rapper perspective on racial tension on “Until We Meet Again”, and delivers plenty of jaded rhymes against an industry full of “a bunch of wanna-be Futures”. His execution of his own melodic hooks is also as sharp as ever. People need to wake the fuck up and support awesome Hip-Hop like this. Seriously, shame on Complex for not even reviewing this. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Dangerous Woman – Ariana Grande

In the months since Carly Rae Jepsen released the unexpectedly phenomenal Emotion last August, I’ve been on the hunt for another bubbly Pop album to shamelessly enjoy. I never thought it would come from the somewhat vanilla Ariana Grande, but I’ll take it! Her third LP is full of slick smashes that show just enough teeth. Particularly recommended are the roaring title track, the smooth “Sometimes”, and sensual numbers like “Into You” and “Let Me Love You”. Even Nicki Minaj, who I am not a fan of, delivers an attention-grabbing verse on “Side to Side”. The second half of the LP does peter out slightly, but Dangerous Woman is one of the best Pop releases of 2016 thus far. RECOMMENDED

Terminal Redux – Vektor

If you’re a Thrash guy but you need a little less ‘80s rehashing and a little more forward thinking to keep you interested, this band’s first two records should’ve caught your ears. But Terminal Redux, their third, should fucking floor you. It’s a concept record that’s as intricate and crushing as any Metal release in 2016. I’ve got a feeling this one’s gonna mosey its way into the “album of the year” conversation. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Ripcord – Keith Urban

Bleghhh. First, I’ll give serious kudos to the track “The Fighter”, an awesome duet with Carrie Underwood, and “Wasted Time”, a decent nostalgia trip. And I enjoyed other moments on here. But this watered-down Pop Country stuff takes years off of my life. And even though Ripcord is definitely listenable compared to its contemporaries, Country music needs more Sturgill Simpsons and less Luke Bryans. NOT RECOMMENDED

Trust No One – Devildriver

Let me begin on a positive note. “Daybreak”, “Testimony of Truth”, and “My Night Sky” are kick ass Metal songs. And if I heard this in 2009 (a.k.a. Pray for Villains, a record I dug the shit out of), I might feel differently. But there’s nothing on here that hasn’t already been done by now-defunct bands like As I Lay Dying and Chimaira, and this redundancy leaves me indifferent to Trust No One. Dez Fafara’s lack of range as a vocalist also grows monotonous as the album drones along, and his occasional Nu-Metalish lyricism on songs like the title track and “Above It All” is a turn off as well. Look, don’t get me wrong, Devildriver are a ripping band. And if you’re looking for another balls-out 21st Century American Metal record, give Trust No One a spin. But personally, I feel I have elsewhere to turn. NOT RECOMMENDED

Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper

Man, I was taken aback watching the hype for Chance’s third project reach the level of insanity it did. At this point when he drops music, the Chi-town indie sensation gets the same frenzied response that Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Beyonce get. And only off of two – now three – mixtapes. It’s remarkable. Chance has enjoyed universal acclaim for Coloring Book so I’m not gonna be another blogger shoving it down your throat. Give it a listen and enjoy it at whatever level it speaks to you. Oh, and check out my throwback review of his debut. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Cloud Nine – Kygo

Frequent readers may be aware that I don’t know shit about EDM. But if an album crosses my path, I’ll give it a casual chance. Numerous times I’ve been enamored by what I’ve heard, as with Madeon’s Adventure and Porter Robinson’s Worlds (and stuff like Tiesto’s Elements of Life if we’re reaching back a ways). This Kygo album is NOT one of those times. It might have several decent bangers like “Stole the Show”, “Raging”, and the over-a-year-old “Firestone”, but that’s where its merits abruptly end. Just listen to the giant, cheeseball hook on “Raging”. Or that piece of shit “Happy Birthday”. Borderline offensive. This is by-the-numbers nonsense that makes me wanna head straight for the zoo and leap into the gorilla cage like that dumb little kid did. NOT RECOMMENDED

 

February 2016 Album Round Up!

We’re just over two months into 2016, and we’ve already – somewhat surprisingly – been blessed with a ton of exciting releases in the midst of typically low-key winter months. When this calendar year is in the books, will we be looking back at January and February as the peak of 2016? Pretty unlikely. But I still feel like I’ve had a fairly reliable, steady stream of high-profile albums to look forward to (some delivered, some did not). And yes, Kanye dropped. But I’m fucking determined to go as long as I possibly can without hearing it. Not for lack of interest either. Just ‘cause. Anyway, here’s a quick recap of nine albums NOT named The Life of Pablo that I spent some time with this past month. Looking forward to what March has in store!

Khalifa – Wiz Khalifa

In the first project of his I’ve enjoyed since 2011’s smash hit Rolling Papers, Wiz dropped some…well, smoking and drinking music. The production and hooks are significantly more effective – to my ears, at least – than O.N.I.F.C. and Blacc Hollywood (save those two albums’ singles). If you’re looking for great lyricism, steer clear, but I definitely found myself coming back to this record quite a bit for some day drinking and pregaming, especially two exceptional, Kush & OJ-style tracks, “Zoney” and “Elevated”. RECOMMENDED

For All Kings – Anthrax

Welcome back Anthrax! About ten listens in, I’ve evaluated For All Kings as “dangerously close” to the Thrash mastery of 2011’s Worship Music. The difference is really just a filler track or two. But the middle chunk of this record is some of the best Anthrax music I’ve ever laid ears on. Joey Belladonna gets the MVP. My full review is available here. YouTube review here. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Day One – From Ashes to New

This studio debut from Lancaster, PA outfit From Ashes to New made me want to vomit. They’re like an even more cheesed-up version of Twenty One Pilots meets Crown the Empire. I appreciate what they’re trying to do, but it just made me cringe. This guy Matt Brandyberry sounds like an even more melodramatic Mike Shinoda when he utters (well, raps) the words: “I lay awake and look at the ceiling and wonder why/I’m so afraid to face all these feelings and want to die”. And that dubstep-y breakdown? Fuck outta here wit dat. Not to mention the clean vocalist sounds fucking IDENTICAL to the guy on Escape the Fate’s self-titled album. I mean, is Day One heavy and appropriately angsty? Passionate even? Sure. And it’ll dominate with the Hot Topic crowd. But holy fuck is it not for me. NOT RECOMMENDED

Sittin’ Heavy – Monster Truck

Simply put, this band’s sophomore effort is the best fucking throwback hard rock record I’ve heard since perhaps Kyng’s Burn the Serum. It’s all there: it’s energetic, passionate, and wholeheartedly convincing. Fans of ‘70s and early ‘80s Rock should check it out immediately! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

This Unruly Mess I’ve Made – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

This one certainly hurt. Macklemore is someone I really root for, if not always for his talent but for his passion, honesty, humility, and sometimes ruthless self-awareness. The Language of My World is phenomenal, The Heist is a near-classic, but Mess, his second with Ryan Lewis, is a huge disappointment. Save a few shining moments (“Light Tunnels”, “Kevin”, and the must-listen “Need of Know”) this thing is all over the place in a BAD way this time. My full review is available here. NOT RECOMMENDED

I Like it When You Sleep – The 1975

Ok, LP number two for these guys, who seem utterly ubiquitous at the moment. I am absolutely in love with the tracks “This Must Be My Dream” and “Somebody Else”. On the latter, those snare drums with the 80s-style reverb are borderline euphoric. While we’re on the topic of the 80s, the standout “She’s American” could’ve squeezed right into an early Huey Lewis and the News disc. But we didn’t need 17 frickin’ songs here. “UGH!” kind of drags in the wake of hit single “Love Me”, and are BOTH “If I Believe You” and “Please Be Naked” necessary when the title track brings all the dynamics this album needs? Still, at a bare minimum this is a wonderful soundtrack to a night drive in the city. Though I tend to think it offers a whole lot more. And yes, I do think Matt Healy eerily resembles Patrick Stump at times. But we’ll agree to disagree. RECOMMENDED

Victorious – Wolfmother

Ugh. This record has one of the strangest dichotomies in any track listing I’ve ever encountered. The first 5 songs are excellent and on par with some of the best moments on Wolfmother’s debut, and the second 5 songs are pure throwaway filler garbage. “Uneven” is an understatement. My full review is available here. NOT RECOMMENDED

X (No Absolutes) – Prong

Album number 11 for Prong – but their 10th of original material – wastes no time with opener “Ultimate Authority”, some excellent Crossover Thrash which would be right at home on a classic like Cleansing (although I know mentioning that record is understandably played out). I love the dissonant yet super-catchy riff in “Without Words” (and, for that matter, “Soul Sickness”) X (No Absolutes) has an impeccable combination of melody and heaviness that all these scream/sing Metalcore bands can only dream about. It stays completely true to the Prong aesthetic, and it’s a set that is sure to devastate in the live environment. I have yet to catch these legends live, so I’m hoping to get the chance on the cycle for X. RECOMMENDED

Dead Dawn – Entombed A.D.

Dead Dawn (Deicide anybody?) is the second album from Entombed 2.0 since the legendary band’s legal battles and break up. One of Entombed’s distinct qualities is how much more groove-oriented they are than the majority of Death Metal, showcased in the title track, and they’re not afraid to get downright melodic, like in that song’s bridge, which sounds like something Arch Enemy would do.There’s nothing in these ten tracks that’ll blow your mind, but there’s some certainly some heavy-ass (surprisingly fun) metal! I’m especially a fan of “Down to Mars to Ride” and the dynamic “Hubris Fall” And it’s still really not THAT far off from Left Hand Path, so there’s that. RECOMMENDED

 

 

The Fall 2015 Pregame Playlist

As I prepare for yet another Jack Daniels-sponsored night of played-out top 40 hits, increasingly horrific dance moves, and general sloppiness of many incarnations, it comes time to reflect. Time to reflect on a semester in which I’ve experienced a monumental methodological shift in my weekly partying and the copious alcohol consumption that operates in tandem. For the last three months or so, I have been accompanied by a playlist.

It happened completely by accident. Because of the sheer variety of music I enjoy, coupled with my abnormally low tolerance for repeated listens, I have always been a staunch opponent of Party and Work Out playlists. For God’s sake, change it up. There’s so much out there that’s not Drake, it’ll blow you away. Anyway, due to my Baby Boomer level of technological savvy, it took me until Summer 2015 to discover the wondrous beauty of YouTube to MP3. Upon this life-altering revelation, I began to accumulate various “turn up” songs that I would never necessarily own but have always enjoyed pregaming to via YouTube, many of them extremely questionable to everyone else. Without even realizing it, I had curated a fucking playlist.

Now I assume nearly everyone’s familiar with the basic, triadic college night structure – 1) drinks with a small crew of close friends, 2) the larger scale “official” pregame, and 3) the main event, at which you hope to either get laid, hang with casual friends you don’t often see, get completely obliterated to celebrate/mourn an occasion, or if you have a banner night, all of the above. For some odd reason, I’ve always taken Phase 1 very seriously, except I execute it in utter solitude. In order to boost my mood, transition from work to fun, and enter the headspace required for a successful night of partying, it has always been crucial for me to have a few drinks alone to the exact party music that I want to hear, and have whatever “deeper” thoughts I need to have before I go mingle with a sea of people I pretend to like, to a soundtrack that I also – for the most part – pretend to like. This 30-minute ritual has slowly evolved into the routine that no good night of mine can start without. Sometimes it’s complemented in various douche-y ways like pushups, pullups, or a nutritious snack, but that’s a whole other issue.

So my newly acquired YouTube rips had a function all of a sudden. Starting at the beginning of the Fall semester in September, they were my soundtrack to Phase 1. I figured that as the semester wore on I would make some sort of changes to the playlist, but I guess that as I age (a whopping 21 years now), familiarity becomes more appealing. Before you know it, I’m going to have a monogamous girlfriend. Anyway, because of the narcissist that I am, I felt eager to share this playlist. I guess it was a big deal to me, at least. Just picture it: I’m pouring my first homemade Jack and Coke, putting on some sort of button down that I’d never wear if I could be socially accepted otherwise, and contemplating whether we actually have any sort of control over our own destinies. Who knows, maybe somebody somewhere else is doing the exact same weird shit.

1) Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Heads Will Roll (A-Trak Remix) – so basic it hurts

2) Sum 41: In Too Deep (Kasum Remix) – a great EDM remix that invigorates an otherwise tired, unwelcome throwback

3) ‘NSync: Tearin’ Up My Heart – yep. One of my all time favorites. Wish I were kidding

4) Backstreet Boys: Everybody (Rock Your Body) – see number 3

5) David Guetta: Titanium (feat. Sia) – how this hasn’t gotten old is beyond me. Still possibly my favorite party song for its mix of danceable beat and dramatic vocals

6) Waka Flocka Flame: No Hands (feat. Roscoe Dash & Wale) – as effective as it was in 2010

7) ScHoolboy Q: Man of the Year – that mesmerizing beat puts my mind in a place that only this song can

8) Porter Robinson: Sad Machine – who knew EDM could make you feel so intensely?

9) Cascada: I Need a Miracle – see numbers 3 and 4

10) Future: Same Damn Time – I never fuck with trap. But THIS…

11) Jay-Z: We Made It (Remix) [feat. Jay Electronica] – the fucking bars on this track. This one should be automatically programmed into every sports locker room

12) Flashdance: She’s a Maniac – do you NOT pregame to 80’s dance anthems?

13) Ariana Grande: The Way (feat. Mac Miller) – Big Pun beat plus Easy Mac plus hot chick? Sign me up.

14) Kaskade: Disarm You (feat. Ilsey) – I wrote about this here

15) The Killers: Smile Like You Mean It (Madeon Remix) – Madeon flipped this gem from Hot Fuss into something equally special

16) Madeon: Adventure (entire fucking album) – THE party album of 2015. Just mindblowing

B.o.B. – Psycadelik Thoughtz Review

As much as he is ignored in the post-Control “best of the new school” conversation (let the following bars from “Ready” explain: all I hear is that boy pop/all I hear is that boy not top five on any list), B.o.B. has crossed an increasingly rare threshold in the hip-hop industry – he is three major label releases in. I don’t think people quite grasp the consistent hit-making ability needed to remain on a major label as a hip-hop artist. The 26-year-old Atlanta MC has enjoyed a whopping fourteen Billboard Top 100 singles in just a five-year span. The indie D.I.Y. route has certainly become the preferred strategy for a majority of hip-hop, but B.o.B. has been one of the select few to work the major label situation to his advantage.

After a smash debut in 2010, he returned in 2012 with the eclectic Strange Clouds, which showcased – to my ears at least – a mastery of pop-rap and an impressive versatility, but alas, hip hop wasn’t impressed, and B.o.B. caved to her demands with 2013’s soulless, undercooked crowd-pleaser Underground Luxury, placing him in an interesting junction in his career. With an open invitation to the pop charts, B.o.B. could likely survive making Underground Luxury-type music for the foreseeable future, or he could return to the rock-influenced, pop-rap A.D.D. that has endeared him to so many.

Last November, he pleasantly surprised me with the more contemplative and confrontational New Black mixtape, a mature yet angst-y project in which he directly and unapologetically addresses cultural issues, reigniting my support and faith in him as an artist. Nine months later, he has Beyonce’d his fans with Psycadelik Thoughtz, an album out of nowhere to hold everybody over until his proper fourth studio album. The casual release of the project certainly gave me an expectation that it would showcase a more organic and less over-thought B.o.B., and I was right.

On Psycadelik Thoughtz, B.o.B. sounds completely uninhibited, unaware of label pressures or slags from purists. Guitars have the biggest presence they have had on a B.o.B. project to date. Clean electric chords fill out “Hourglass” nicely, an irresistible track that finds B.o.B. playfully mocking male pickup lines amidst otherwise standard chaveunist rhymes. Also notable is the indie-influenced “Violet Vibrato”, which is given a lead guitar sendoff reminiscent of 70’s rock.

B.o.B. has also never been afraid to sing, but he completely lets loose on these eleven tracks and has never sounded more convincing. “Plain Jane”, a track dealing with feminine body shaming, is given a serious boost by intricate vocal harmonies. Preceding track “Back and Forth”, meanwhile, is begging for radio play. The tune’s unapologetic funk bounce may generate yet another monster hit, though it is ultimately up to the masses. My only question – what the hell is the “electric slide”? Will some drunk girl be asking me to do the electric slide at my next sweaty basement party?

Bobby Ray also thankfully avoids hip hop’s worst cliché, the overused female vocalist, so when Sevyn Streeter finally appears on track ten, “Love Life”, it works. In the song’s last verse, he successfully employs the trademark Drake technique of alternating between singing and rapping mid-flow. On album closer “Have Nots”, he blends anthemic, Imagine Dragons-style stadium rock with a quick-paced flow that calls Big Boi to mind.

Psycadelik Thoughtz contains almost none of the dexterous lyricism B.o.B. occasionally displays (for evidence please see his guest spot on Tech N9ne’s “Am I a Psycho?”…you motherfuckers, I’m so sick of having to explain that B.o.B. can hold his own lyrically). But Psycadelik Thoughtz shows such a dedication to great songs that it doesn’t matter in this case. B.o.B. continues to reinvent himself, and these eleven tracks carve a surprisingly fresh space in the world of crossover urban music. It’s different, yet tuneful. It’s funky, yet soulful. I highly recommend Psycadelik Thoughtz to any pop or mainstream rap fan. B.o.B. has once again stepped out of his comfort zone and reminded listeners that he is a formidable, ambitious artist. I am anxiously awaiting album number four.