April 2017 Album Round Up!

So, another month came and went. The first week of April (right around the time the Chainsmokers released once of the worst albums of the year) kicked off the month in exciting fashion for me – my band hit the studio with Joe Cocchi from Within the Ruins and cranked out a couple killer tunes that I can’t wait to unleash on the world. After that? Well, I worked 50-hour weeks, squeezed out some YouTube videos, and socialized approximately zero times. I’ve currently been sober for 31 days, which is the longest I’ve gone without booze since I first started drinking when I was 15. It’s not an AA type thing – lately I’ve just found myself growing out of that lifestyle.

I’d like to report that laying off the sauce has drastically improved my day-to-day existence and forever altered the course of my life, but I’m pretty sure it’s just made me marginally less cranky and a lot more boring. But I still by no means endorse drinking – after all, have you seen the absolute rape of a markup that bars get away with on Jack and Cokes and other well drinks? Sheesh. Save your money, kids.

There was also the Kendrick Lamar album, which, now that I think of it, formed the nucleus of April 2017 in many ways. My GOD are we witnessing history with that guy. He fucking delivered again.

Anyway, here are my monthly biased-as-all-hell musings on some new music. I gotta say, 2017’s got some serious momentum now –  I couldn’t be more excited heading into May’s stacked release schedule!

Memories…Do Not Open – The Chainsmokers

This is…just, lowest common denominator everything. Lyrically, it has the depth of a sixth grader’s diary – “opener “The One” is SERIOUSLY about not being able to go to a friend’s party, and “Bloodstream” begins with the declaration, “I’ve been drunk three times this week” (not to mention this gem on “Last Day Alive”: “the night is young and we are young”) – and musically, it has the depth of, well, a sixth grader’s diary. The beat to “Break Up Every Night” sounds like a commercial for a Chuck E Cheese, while the drop in “Wake Up Alone” is mind-bogglingly juvenile. In all honesty, I feel like the frat party music/EDM crossover is a wonderful niche (one The Chainsmokers have successfully exploited with songs like “Roses”) but this is, like, teeny bop shit! It’s horribly dumbed down even by Pop standards! NOT RECOMMENDED

All Amerikkkan Bada$$ – Joey Bada$$

While some people may point to the likes of Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole as “ old school Hip-Hop revivalists”, I couldn’t disagree more. When I think of that term in its purest sense, I think of Joey Bada$$ the Brooklyn MC who may have born in 1995, but spits like that’s the current calendar year. Given my affinity for ‘90s Hip-Hop, his debut B4.Da.$$ was one of my favorite Hip-Hop albums of 2015, and its follow-up is even better (and way hookier). Gritty standout “Rockabye Baby” is the epitome of the aforementioned revivalism; anybody from The Lox to Mobb Deep to Nas to Big Pun would sound great on that instrumental (ScHoolboy Q ultimately steals the show with its guest spot). The melodic, almost serene ”For My People”, meanwhile, might be my favorite Hip-Hop track of 2017 thus far. My only gripe with this album is that Joey tackles familiar race issues without having any sort of unique perspective – it’s all the same “cops are out to kill me”, “racism is bad” “government is evil” kind of shit. It’s important shit to talk about, but it needs a new spin. Other than that, the dude is proving to be the real deal. RECOMMENDED

The Search for Everything – John Mayer

After forays into Country and Folk music with his last two LPs, John Mayer’s glorious return to the Pop world is an enjoyable but somewhat fluffy affair. While I dug the hell out of the mushy, relatable romance of “Love on the Weekend”, the wonderful break-up fodder of tracks like “Never on the Day You Leave” and “Moving on and Getting Over”, as well as the crunchy rocker “Helpless”, there were also a few empty, excessively dumbed down cuts like “In the Blood” and “Changing” that made this album underwhelming for me. Knowing Mayer’s talent, I’d prefer to be challenged as a listener. But he still hits his mark more often than not. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

If you want some extended thoughts on this album, it’s best to go here, but I gotta say this: we are witnessing Hip-Hop history here. What many other artist in the history of the genre has come right out of the gate with FOUR INCREDIBLE RECORDS?? Outkast? Maybe. Eric B. and Rakim? Perhaps. But it’s a fucking select few. So when this dropped, I just soaked up the moment. This guy will go down as one of the greats. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Season High – Little Dragon

This Swedish Electronic group’s 5th studio album was my first outing with them. And to be blunt, I didn’t care for the slow-moving, campy, anti-climatic music that I came across. Maybe I just lack the necessary nuance in my taste for dance music, but these songs didn’t have the rousing energy that I look for in the genre. It was more like a goofy video game soundtrack with grating vocals. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Assassination of Julius Caesar – Ulver

Listening back to their classic debut album Bergtatt, I can’t think of a Metal band that has undergone as dramatic a transformation as Ulver over the years. In 2017, over 23 years after that seminal Black Metal release, they’re not even classifiably “Metal” anymore. The Assassination of Julius Caesar dips its toes into dance, a bit of new wave, and a whole lot of moody, nocturnal soundscapes. The spacey, mesmerizing “Southern Gothic” is a favorite of mine, as is the opening track “Nemoralia”, with its smooth electro strut and gorgeous vocals from Kristoffer Rygg. Whatever the fuck the genre is, these guys continue to wow me. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Seven – Talib Kweli & Styles P

These two Hip-Hop veterans came together for seven fun yet thought-provoking tracks that delicately balance a carefree cypher spirit with uncompromising sociopolitical commentary, particularly as it retains to race issues. Here is a full review. You should watch it, given that Talib himself loved it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Coming Home – Falling in Reverse

It makes me chuckle that I spent way more time unpacking this record than I thought I would. ‘Cause to be honest, I went into it with a sorta snobby, scornful dismissiveness, but when early cuts like “I Hate Everyone” and the title track were genuinely catchy, I was shocked. Was this album going to be the ultimate sleeper?? I started to get excited. The answer, though, was a resounding NO as I was introduced to songs like “Superhero” and “Hanging On”, and simultaneously realized that all of these childish lyrics were being sung by a 33-year-old man (in case you didn’t know, Falling in Reverse is fronted by ex-Escape the Fate frontman Ronnie Radke). Plus, I don’t see how the supposed “space theme” ties in except for a few corny Starset-lite studio effects. NOT RECOMMENDED

Madness – All That Remains

In what could be the final nail in the coffin for many of their older fans, All That Remains completed their descent into radio rock mediocrity with this LP. Featuring three of the sappiest, shittiest ballads I have ever heard (“If I’m Honest”, “Far From Home”, and “Back To You”) as well as neutered, passionless production from Howard Benson (who likewise ruined In Flames’ last record), Madness is everything fans have been afraid of as the band has teetered on the edge of Pop-Metal. Personally, since All That Remains has never been a “brutal” band anyway, I’d encourage them to keep going in this direction. If they just drop the ballads and write some better songs next time, maybe this could work out. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

 Makes Me Sick – New Found Glory

These pop-punk pioneers came roaring back with an album that reaffirms their position as one of the very best at the genre they helped usher in. These tunes are just brimming with sugar sweet hooks and carefree, spunky energy. Listening to the sheepish innocence on display during “Short and Sweet” – where frontman Jordan Pundik gushes to his crush, “I don’t deserve someone as beautiful as you” – these guys haven’t aged a bit. The youthful spirit of this record is not forced at all. Special shout out to standout cut “Sound of Two Voices”, which is like….I don’t even know….Tropical-Pop-Dance-Punk? I love it! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Back to the Basics – Rich Homie Quan

Lovely Little Lonely – The Maine

Long Live Nut – YFN Lucci

How Will You Know If You Never Try – COIN

Pure Comedy – Father John Misty

DON’T LIKE:

Extinction – Harlott

Humanz – Gorillaz

Youth – Tinie Tempah

Embodiment – Enterprise Earth

SHINE – Wale

February 2017 Album Round Up!

Wow, we’ve arrived at the First Anniversary of this segment! When I decided to write a post last March recapping all the records I was bumping in February 2016, I had no idea this was going to be a thing. But a year later, it’s become something I look forward to every month. It forces me to point my ears in all directions, and really think CRITICALLY about what I’m hearing, even if I’m not in “full review” mode.

I can only imagine that in another year, when we have our two-year anniversary (whooaaa things are getting serious. I hope all the sex hasn’t dried up by then), I’ll still be cranking these out the same way I am today.

And given that we’ve hit this big milestone, it’s only fitting that I add something new! As you might’ve guessed, I listen to a lot more than 8 – 12 albums every month. But just because I’m too lazy to write about all of them in descriptive detail doesn’t mean I shouldn’t let my feelings be known! So I’ve added a section to these Round Ups where I give a basic “like” or “don’t like” verdict on another batch of the month’s releases….with zero explanation. I guess it’ll be up to you to listen to ‘em and figure out my reasons for your own damn self!

But if you’ve checked out any of these Round Ups so far, thank you so much for your support! Hopefully I’ve turned you on to (or helped you avoid) at least one new album you otherwise might’ve missed. That’s all I’m trying to do here. It’s not rocket science. So if that happened for any of my readers, I couldn’t be happier; this thing is a success.

DROGAS Light – Lupe Fiasco

After 2015’s stunning conceptual project Tetsuo & Youth, Chi town’s most pretentious wordsmith takes an infuriating nosedive into half-witted commercial Hip-Hop. This album was a colossal disappointment for me. I don’t understand why Lupe still feels the need to make Pop-Rap ditties like “Pick Up the Phone” after he was trashed for making an album full of them (2011’s Lasers). In all fairness, DROGAS Light isn’t Lasers Part 2 – tracks like “NGL” and “Made in the USA” have more of a Trap vibe than anything else – but whatever it is, it’s equally uninteresting. In fact, it’s my least favorite Lupe project to date. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Suicide Silence – Suicide Silence

Modern Deathcore frontrunners Suicide Silence decided to shake things up for album number five, bringing in famed Nu Metal producer Ross Robinson and drastically altering their sound. Hey, I’m all for adventurousness – in fact, that’s the only reason I checked this album out. The only problem? It’s one of the worst pieces of shit I have ever heard. Eddie Hermida’s clean “singing” is about as easy to listen to as a Sandy Hook conspiracy theory. What makes things worse is Hermida’s patronizing, dismissive responses to any criticism of this album, claiming that anyone who doesn’t like it “just doesn’t get it” or is “full of hatred” or whatever. He’s like the fucking Donald Trump of shitty Nu Metal. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Flying Micronatal Banana – King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

These guys are quickly becoming favorites of mine! This record in particular is an inventive blend of Psychedelic Rock, and Alternative with free-flowing, exploratory musicianship that keeps things interesting all the way through the track list. The eerie hookiness of a cuts like “Sleep Drifter” and “Melting” has made this the most addicting listen of any LP this month. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Prisoner – Ryan Adams

One of the most prolific songwriters in all of music came through with a set of painfully relatable tunes that center primarily on heartbreak and loss. Whether or not he intended it to be, it’s the ultimate breakup album. On the musical side of things, the balance between crunchy Heartland Rock, Folk-Rock balladry, and dashes of country is gracefully executed . And I have to particularly praise the impossibly gorgeous clean guitar tones that Ryan achieves throughout this entire thing – they make it worth the listen all on their own. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

I Decided. – Big Sean

Upside: with I Decided, Big Sean gave us his strongest project to date, featuring well-thought out concepts, an uncharacteristic amount of introspection, and some familiar clever word-play. Downside: the guy is still churning out horribly generic, Drake-biting songs like “Bounce Back” and “Moves”. Upside: with the sweet chick-swooping ballad “Jump Out the Window” and the stunning “Bigger Than Me”, Sean gave us not only HIS best two songs to date, but two of the best songs of the year. Downside: at one point, he rhymes “Channing Tatum” with “J. J. Abrams” and “Jason Statham”. Ugh. Very frustrating. But like I said, this is his best work to date, and I look forward to what the Detroit spitter does next. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Torment – Six Feet Under

 While there’s nothing outwardly WRONG with the 12th outing from these Death Metal veterans, it’s so painfully meat-and-potatoes that I’m gonna have to pass over it. Which, that more has to do with MY tastes than anything else – it’s more a “me” thing than a “them” thing. But the dumbed-down riffs on a song like “Knife Through the Skull” are mind-numbing for me (who knew ex-Cannibal Corpse frontman Chris Barnes would sing a song called “Knife Through the Skull”? What a plot twist!). I do really enjoy the track “Bloody Underwear” – it brings a bit of a Hardcore mosh sensibility, and it’s a lot of fun! (though the supposedly violent title could just be referring to his special lady’s time of the month…..just saying). Bottom line: if you like your Death Metal stripped to the bone and ultra groovy, you might dig this, but – with as little pretentiousness as possible – it’s just a bit simple for me. NOT RECOMMENDED

Chief – Jidenna

The man behind “Classic Man” proves that he’s anything but a one-hit wonder. On Chief, he’s versatile as hell, one minute pulling together a song like “Trampoline” – the ultimate soundtrack for a private dance at a strip club – and the next minute, commanding your attention with clever, posturing bars on “Long Live the Chief”. And smooth melodies abound, whether it’s the aforementioned “Trampoline”, or it’s the slick balladry of “Bambi”, or the exotic “Adaora”. The melting pot production is worthy of mention too – The Let Out” is like a DS2 Future/DJ Mustard mash-up, “Safari is a R&B/Hip-Hop mixture that The Weeknd would crush, “2 Points” features some punchy horns, “Long Live the Chief” is electro minimalism that oddly works. If only he had left the obligatory post-“One Dance” dancehall song off (“Little Bit More”). But I’ll forgive it, ‘cause this is one promising debut. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Grinding Wheel – Overkill

 The legendary East Coast thrashers followed up 2014’s exceptional White Devil Armory with a record that’s significantly less exceptional, but still passable. This time around, the riffs just felt a bit less punchy and exciting, and the tracks dragged on and on for unnecessary lengths (similar to my gripes with the new Metallica album), which left me feeling underwhelmed. There’s still some bonafide rippers though, like the opener “Mean, Green, Killing Machine”, or “Our Finest Hour”, which has a couple devastating riffs and some shrieking vocals from frontman Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Gelato – Young Dolph

The only noteworthy moment on this project is the Yo Gotti diss track (“Play Wit Yo Bitch”), which I have to at least commend for the DIRECT, very UN-subliminal nature of the insults, as basic and schoolyard as they are. And one more track I might come back to is “On the River”, because A) “fucked her on the river” is such a hilarious refrain, and B) the beat is HARD. Other than that, Gelato is one of my least favorite Hip-Hop projects I’ve heard this year. It’s got every stereotype that non-Rap fans gleefully shit on – posturing, smoking weed, banging bitches, and of course posturing about smoking weed and banging bitches. Wasn’t anything for me here, especially when Dolph’s rival Yo Gotti brought such FIRE with CM9 recently. NOT RECOMMENDED

Origins – Mutiny Within

The Little Metal Band That Could is still chugging along six years since being dropped from Roadrunner Records due to the disappointing commercial performance of their self-titled debut. I have loved this band since day one – their blend of melodic, keyboard-driven European Metal with the riff-tastic Metalcore of their American counterparts made them the band I wanted to be IN growing up. And Origins, their third LP, turned out to be their best yet! The album effortlessly sways between noodling technicality and accessible – dare I say, slightly Poppy – hooks. It’s probably not for everyone, but it feels tailored EXACTLY to my tastes. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Plato O Plomo – Fat Joe & Remy Ma

So Joey Crack and Remy Ma decided to follow up their vernacular-defining mega-hit “All the Way Up” with a full album,. On Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club, the two emcees deemed the project a “complete masterpiece” and I strongly disagree. It’s full of a lot of empty boasts, standard gangsta rap bars, and the occasional hilariously clumsy sexism (like the beginning of “Go Crazy”), or lyrically challenged rhyme scheme (Fat Joe rhymes “Narcos” with “Pablo” on “Spaghetti”). There are a couple beats go hard, like the menacing “Swear to God”, or the riled up “Cookin”, but nothing to see here, really. NOT RECOMMENDED

A Few More

Like:

Atonement – Immolation (Death Metal)

The Breaker – Little Big Town (Country)

The Feminine: Act II – Anna Wise

Fin – Syd (R & B)

Drunk – Thundercat (Jazz Fusion)

Dislike:

NAV – NAV (Hip-Hop)

HNDRXX – Future (Hip-Hop, R & B)

 

 

Why You Should Add Me On Snapchat!

Dear World at Large,

In May 2015, I finally gave in to Snapchat. My buddy insisted it would help me get laid. It did help with that, but that’s not why I love Snapchat.

I love Snapchat because it caters to our generation. We’re visual as fuck, and our attention spans are short as fuck. When it comes to keeping in touch with friends, staying up to date on their comings and goings, and, well, sending and receiving titty pics, it makes more sense than Facebook at this point.

I also love Snachat because there are four or five girls on mine whose snap stories consist of nothing but them partying six days a week, and I watch them CONSTANTLY in order to feel good about myself and the fact that I’m living relatively responsibly and working to (sloooowwwwly) advance my goals. But that’s neither here nor there.

In my early ‘20s, I’m already an old man at heart. I hate change, I don’t have the patience to deal with technology, and I complain a lot about my back hurting. But Snapchat is a relatively current thing that I absolutely get down with, and I’ve found it to be more and more instrumental in my unwavering life goal these past 18 months: to bring happiness to the lives of others by sharing the great music that’s made mine manageable.

I am a shithead, and I do have shithead friends, so every now and then my story DOES consist of your typical debaucherous “going out” nonsense. But 90% of the time, it’s all about music. For the last few months, I’ve made a concentrated effort to post a few snap stories per week of song recommendations, album recommendations, quick little rants about my favorite and least favorite artists, and even what I’ve deemed “mini reviews”, in which I spend three or four consecutive ten-second stories giving brief thoughts about a new record! Despite how off-the-cuff it all may seem, I put considerable effort into making sure each and every snap will be worth SOMEONE’s time, if not many people’s.

My username is ryanpanny. No “music”, just “ryanpanny”. Hit me up on there, and I promise I’ll do my utmost to keep the music content flowing – recommendations, mini album reviews, embarrassingly awkward sing-alongs, and everything in between! Sharing my passion for music with the world every day – and the thought that my music commentary could change someone’s life for the better, if ever so slightly, by bringing some great new music into it – is a neverending joy for me. Going forward, Snapchat will be one of the main avenues with which I will work to accomplish this.

Hope to see ya on there!

Love,

Ryan

August 2016 Album Round Up!

Hey guys! Hope your summers went out with a bang and the whole death-of-fun-and-sunshine-and-continuation-of-your-shit-life thing isn’t getting ya too down! As expected, August was relatively slow on the new music front. But in terms of new music, shit’s about to get crazy so I didn’t mind a quiet month. I got to chip away at my never-ending quest to “catch up” on classics, I got to drink excessively, and I got to put together a bit of a game plan for taking on the musical insanity that’s headed our way. Still, in any given month, there’s never a COMPLETE shortage of high profile albums. In fact, I think Frank Ocean and Young Thug purposely waited for a commercial lull to drop their hugely successful new projects. Not that either of them needed it, but it’s that much less space they have to share with their peers.

I’m so fucking psyched for the Fall. SO MUCH shit is dropping. Kinda like hanging out by the Seagulls at the beach. (Don’t worry, I didn’t actually just make that joke, it’s all in your head.) But for now, here are my thoughts on nine of this past month’s releases:

Emotion: Side B – Carly Rae Jepsen

That we didn’t get this earlier in the Summer is a travesty, but Carly Rae’s b-side collection from last year’s phenomenal Emotion LP is a rarity in that it’s as great as the main event was. Seriously, Emotion was in my Top 5 albums of 2015, and I’m enjoying these 8 tracks JUST AS MUCH. Carly’s songs are just as infectious when she’s bubbly and optimistic (“First Time” and Higher”) as when she’s down on her luck (“Cry” and “Roses”). As with Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered release earlier this year, Emotion: Side B proves that following a critical triumph with its leftovers actually HELPS rather than hinders its legacy. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Slow Death – Carnifex

I expected to hate the shit out of this. Deathcore is potentially my least favorite style of Metal – more often than not, it’s brute force over nuance, nihilistic ranting over thoughtfulness, and aggression for aggression’s sake. But I’m so glad I gave this new Carnifex LP a shot. It’s hardly the one-track minded Deathcore of early Whitechapel or Job for a Cowboy – rather, it’s a formidable amalgamation of a few different Metal niches. Standout “Drown Me In Blood”, for instance, is more of a brutal Death Metal/Deathcore hybrid, with some seriously catchy riffing in the chorus, and “Black Candles Burning” brings a touch of blackened Metal to the table. Not to mention the keys throughout the album on cuts like “Pale Ghost” add a slight theatrical element. Sure, there’s an abundance of low brow lyrics (check the refrain in “Six Feet Closer to Hell”…eeek), and Slow Death isn’t a Metal Album of the Year or anything, but it’s a friendly reminder that genre elitism is the worst offense a music fan can commit. RECOMMENDED

Fishing Blues – Atmosphere

 These prolific indie Hip-Hop giants followed up 2014’s Southsiders with a set of tracks that showcase Ant’s midas touch for slick, tuneful beats far more prominently than Slug’s rhyming skills. The instrumentals on Fishing Blues are spot on, while the lyrics are spot-TY in places. Slug drops some questionable bars, like “I wanna put my DNA in your American Pie”, or the entire track “Next To You”, which is about jerking off next to his sleeping girlfriend, and is as painfully cringeworthy as it sounds. But as expected from an MC of Slug’s caliber, he also has moments of greatness, like the self-aware “Everything” or the elegant scene-setting in the title track. All things considered – barring a few skip-worthy cuts – it still adds up to yet another solid Atmosphere project. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

No, My Name is JEFFERY – Young Thug

The Atlanta MC’s latest mixtape has earned him unprecedented acclaim, and for good reason. Tracks like the funky “Wyclef Jean”, the uber-melodic “Swizz Beatz”, and the impossibly smooth “Guwop” are some of the best Hip-Hop songs of 2016. Jeffery’s track list is not bulletproof (exhibits A and B: the obnoxious voice cracks on “RiRi” and the plodding “menace” of “Harambe”), and there’s still a part of me that’s irritated as fuck with Thugger’s whole schtick – the squeaky delivery and the unimaginative sexual vulguarity in particular – but that part of me is quieter than he’s ever been with Jeffery. It’s just too damn catchy. I’d go as far as to call it the best Young Thug project to date. RECOMMENDED

Echoes of the Tortured – Sinsaenum

I will admit, upon hearing Echoes of the Tortured , the debut from this Extreme Metal supergroup (featuring ex-Slipknot skinsman Joey Jordison, Dragonforce bassist Frederic Leclercq, and vocalists Attila from Mayhem and Sean Zatorsky from Daath), I felt mislead, and to a lesser extent disappointed. On The Jasta Show, Joey and Frederic sold their new project in a manner that had me thinking it would be a Black Metal and Death Metal hybrid, equal parts Darkthrone and Morbid Angel. In reality, they’ve unleashed eleven tracks of Death Metal and ten tracks of campy keyboard interludes. That being said, despite a few lyrical clichés (the Deicide homage “Inverted Cross”), it’s flawlessly executed. Check the middle of “Condemned to Suffer” for some amazingly catchy riffing, and check tracks like “Army of Chaos” and “Final Curse” for stripped-back headbanging grooves that recall the early ‘90s. If you’re at all into Death Metal, this is a great listen. RECOMMENDED

Encore – DJ Snake

Fuck, I did this one to myself. Electronic Dance Music is the latest “genre project” in my obsessive music nerd manhunt – I’ve been falling deeper and deeper in love with its many subgenres and the 40-year history of Electronic music, determined to become qualified to review and write about it in the next six months or so. Unfortunately, this means I’m giving every EDM release a listen out of sheer curiosity, even total nonsense like this. DJ Snake ironically titled his debut album Encore, which I suppose is encouraging for us in his case because an encore usually signals the end. Either way, the flavors on this LP range from plain Vanilla to Sweaty Butthole (to clarify for any sexual deviants, that is a NEGATIVE thing). The Skrillex collaboration “Sahara” features the most obnoxious EDM drop I have ever fucking heard. “Pigalle” is a close runner-up. That’s all I’m willing to share. NOT RECOMMENDED

Blonde – Frank Ocean

Listen to this. It’s fucking beautiful. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Home of the Strange – Young the Giant

Young the Giant’s third LP comes with no major surprises – sauntering grooves (“Amerika” and “Something to Believe in”), reverb-soaked choruses (“Titus Was Born”) straightforward lyrical content (“Mr. Know-It-All”), and, periodically, some glossy synths playing back up (“Elsewhere”). I enjoyed the hell out of this band’s self-titled debut back in 2010 – it fit right in with Alt-Rock acts that I was into like Band of Horses, Cage the Elephant, and soon after, Imagine Dragons. For better or worse, Young the Giant are another agreeable indie Rock band. The (minor) issue that pops up with this particular sound is that Young the Giant and their peers tend to be pretty faceless and mild. Home of the Strange is often a fun listen, but it’s like wandering into a delicious pizza place in New York City- another block or two and you can find a similar experience. RECOMMENDED

SremmLife 2 – Rae Sremmurd

When I think of Rae Sremmurd, their music isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. I think of Complex magazine controversially ranking their Sremmlife debut the third best album of 2015, ahead of Drake, Vince Staples, A$AP Rocky, and, well, every other album that came out that year except two (Future’s DS2 and Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly). On their sophomore effort, the two MCs are a banger factory once again– there’s no denying that – but I find myself indifferent because there’s so little to explore beneath its charismatic surface. As a result, the record as a whole has had little replay value for me. But I will say that “Look Alive” is my favorite Rae Sremmurd track yet, and I totally understand why tons of fans are likely head-over-heels for this album. NOT RECOMMENDED

June 2016 Album Round Up!

What a month June was. The back end of the month saw me frantically putting together my Mid-Year Album Lists (check my YouTube channel for the video versions or check back with this blog in the next few days), and the month of June itself spawned five releases that ended up beating out albums I’ve been living with for months! Garbage, Gojira, Nails, Apathy, and Be’Lakor all wound up on my Mid-Year lists! June couldn’t have ever topped May, but it was an excellent month for new music! Here are my thoughts on ten albums that dropped:

Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie – Volbeat

Unfortunately, it is no easy feat to follow up a pair of excellent LPs (2010’s Beyond Hell/Above Heaven and 2013’s Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies) that blurred the lines between Rock and Metal and nudged both genres forward in the process. Alas, the Danes have returned from half a decade of triumphs with something less exciting and more repetitive. But Volbeat retracing their steps still entails a solid helping of fun, catchy, immediately satisfying Rock songs. I especially dug “The Bliss”, the title cut, and the closing duo of tracks, “You Will Know” and “The Loa’s Crossroad”. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Why Are You OK – Band of Horses

When I sit and consider some of my favorite Alternative music that has ever been made, Band of Horses’ third LP Infinite Arms almost always springs to mind. It’s just a special record for me. Thus it’s a high water mark I can forgive them for failing to reach again on album number five, which otherwise performs as advertised.As Band of Horses continue to execute on their winning formula, much of these tracks wash over you with waves of mellow, calmly reassuring musical passages that occasionally pick up their pace and crunchiness, but still retain that same good-natured vibe. Standouts include beautiful ballads like “Hag”, “Lying Under Oak”, and lead single “Whatever, Wherever”, as well as the bouncy boardwalk soundtrack “Solemn Oath”. Overall, Why Are You OK is not necessarily the type of music that invokes an impassioned response in either direction . It’s pleasant, it’s unassuming, and if it were playing in my childhood home, my mom would walk by and go, “oh, that’s a nice song”. You can flip that evaluation to mean something positive or something negative. I definitely choose positive. RECOMMENDED

The Human Condition – Jon Bellion

Jon Bellion’s debut LP has got to be one of the highest anticipated releases of the summer. His mixtape buzz has been years in the making, and he’s already built quite a loyal fanbase for himself through both his Visionary Music Group affiliation and his ties to several gargantuan hits like Zedd’s “Beautiful Now” and Eminem’s “The Monster” (he co-wrote the latter). The Human Condition, the end result of all this hype, is enjoyable and well-thought out, but pretty spotty. It’s tough for me to sit through sappy, well-worn Pop terrain like “Fashion” or the One Republic knock-off “Maybe IDK” in order to get to tracks I dig like the rap-heavy “New York Soul, Pt. ii”. Nevertheless, these 14 songs have more successes than failures – not to mention these lyrical themes are so millennial-centric – so it gets overall approval from me. RECOMMENDED

Magma – Gojira

With Magma, these French extreme metal masters made the mainstream-ish gateway album that they only hinted at on 2012’s L’Enfant Sauvage. And guess what?? They’re just as convincing playing concise and simple music as they are being epic and long-winded. In fact, borderline Hard Rock track “Stranded” is potentially my favorite! Magma might be slightly flawed and not completely live up to the masterful trio of LPs that came before it, but that’s like saying Megadeth’s awesome Countdown to Extinction doesn’t live up to Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? or Rust in Peace. One of the best Metal albums of the year thus far. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Rude Awakening – Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J, & TM88

I should’ve learned from Collegrove (this past March’s collaborative mixtape between 2 Chainz and Lil’ Wayne). I suppose I didn’t. But at least Collegrove carried with it the possibility of hearing an occasional flash of brilliance from Wayne reminiscent of his mid-00s mixtape run. Rude Awakening, however, is a different story. I could almost feel the neural pathways in my brain writhing in agony as I got clobbered with one rudimentary turn-up rhyme after another. On the track “All Night”, Wiz Khalifa actually says “I got bars like a jail”, making other lines like “Don’t SnapChat me that pussy, I want it for real” sound like Langston Hughes. Avoid this thing at all costs. NOT RECOMMENDED

Strange Little Birds – Garbage

I got into these beloved ‘90s alt heroes (specifically their self-titled debut) JUST in time for Strange Little Birds, their sixth LP overall. Admittedly, I’m riding a bit of a “discovery high” so check back in with me in a few months, but Strange Little Birds is fucking awesome. It manages to fit in with its modern contemporaries and avoid sounding derivative, yet it successfully recalls greatness of two decades ago. “Blackout”, ripping lead single “Empty”, and “Teaching Little Fingers to Play” – the latter which gracefully addresses growing pains – are among my favorites, but all 11 tracks hit their mark. More thoughts in this video. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Handshakes with Snakes – Apathy

Words can’t express what this album means to an old-school Hip Hop head like myself. Handshakes with Snakes is Apathy’s 5th studio album, but the CT veteran’s copious releases are well into the double digits. What we get on this LP is knocking, boom-bap production and thoughtful, lyrically complex bars. A song like “Pay Your Dues”, with a sweet Phil Collins sample, finds Ap railing against entitled, unoriginal new rappers, telling them “you can’t win wars if you ain’t swung swords” and reaffirming his commitment to the craft: “what’s love? Studying Illmatic like the Bible.” “Rap Is Not Pop” is another killer cut, with the MC boldly claiming he’s “Too Kool G Rap for these new school cats.” I’d fucking agree. There’s even a reference to Big L’s “H-E-double hockey sticks line” on “Blow Ya Head Off”. You can’t miss if you’re a fan of gritty 90s Hip-Hop, and for me, this is a contender for indie Rap album of the year so far. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Unden!able – Hellyeah

This Metal supergroup began their career with three albums in a row full of cookie cutter, throwaway Groove Metal and lyrics that made Fred Durst and Five Finger Death Punch’s Ivan Moody seem tolerable. Occasionally a song would find its way onto my work out playlist, but I was not a fan. Their fourth LP, 2014’s Blood for Blood, was a noticeable uptick in production and songwriting, with a decent chunk of the corny cut out, but I still wasn’t convinced. Unden!able is an ever-so-slight improvement on Blood for Blood, weighed down by several cringeworthy moments but featuring Active Rock radio slam dunks “Human”, “Leap of Faith”, “X”, and the soaring ballad “Love Falls”, which are juuust enough to tip it over the edge for me. That being said, every now and then I give something the benefit of the doubt and regret it later, and it remains to be seen if Unden!able fits that narrative. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

You Will Never Be One of Us – Nails

 The third record from Nails is a fucking exhilarating listen. Before the sludgy eight-minute closer “They Come Crawling Back”, it’s 14 minutes of pummeling Powerviolence/Grindcore/Thrash Metal/Death Metal combos that leave the listener gasping for air. The guitar tone is absurdly heavy, yet the production doesn’t muddy up any riffs or grooves. If you like music that inspires you to grab the cutest baby and just start violently shaking it, this is for you. Personally, it made my Metal Mid-Year List. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Still Brazy – YG

I just don’t see it guys. The hype behind YG’s follow-up to his breakout My Krazy Life album isn’t warranted to me. It’s definitely an improvement on that LP, but it’s not the West Coast Hip-Hop landmark that people are making it out to be. Sure, there’s some menacing bravado on “Don’t Come to LA”, and “Gimmie Got Shot” is a satisfying conceptual listen about mooching, but there’s nothing spectacular. But a track like “Bool, Balm, and Bollective” has such an unimaginative hook, and “Why You Always Hatin’” finds YG getting bodied by a singin’ nigga (Drake shows up for a feature and up-stages him). The best thing about this record is the production – “I Got a Question”, for instance, has to be one of the more interesting combination of sounds I’ve heard this year. The 1500 or Nothin’ beat sounds like DJ Mustard meets “Nuthin’ but a G Thang” meets a laser gun from an arcade game. It’s definitely not a BAD album, but it’s pretty good at best, and to my ears, it’s fairly non-essential. NOT RECOMMENDED

Volbeat’s “Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie”: Three Singles Deep

Is Volbeat going to be Rock’s next arena act? It’s a conversation that needs to be had. If Five Finger Death Punch can do it, I don’t see why Volbeat couldn’t. In addition to having toured with the likes of Avenged Sevenfold Anthrax, and FFDP themselves, they’re coming off two straight highly acclaimed, exciting Hard Rock records. Both 2010’s Beyond Hell/Above Heaven and 2013’s Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies struck an impeccable balance between credibility and commercially viability.

Over 3 years since it came out, I still can’t get enough of Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies. It’s got infinite energy and endless hooks, and isn’t quite sure whether it wants to be a Rock or Metal record, which affords it considerable breathing room. Active Rock radio listeners eat it up, metalheads (particularly old-school ones) can vibe with it, and the occasional mainstream listener gets pulled in as well. I may be reaching a bit, but it all feels Foo Fighters-esque. I don’t think we’re anywhere close to the peak of Volbeat’s upward trajectory.

Of course, whether this momentum continues is dependent on Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie, the band’s sixth album set to drop this Friday, June 3rd. Currently, all we have to go on is three pre-release singles. So how is Volbeat’s highly anticipated new LP looking thus far?

The Devil’s Bleeding Crown: I already discussed this one when it dropped in early April. It’s the first single and opening track on Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie, and it keeps things basic: basic hooks, basic riffs, and predictable structure. It’s solid Rock and Roll through and through, just safe. Michael Poulsen’s voice is as powerful as ever, and this single’s Active Rock radio success is imminent, but I’m getting nothing new out of it. And I could definitely do without that horribly cheesy clapping section.

The Bliss: Self-replication in music is an interesting phenomenon. Is “ripping yourself off” against the rules? Considering the careers of AC/DC, Motorhead, and Slayer, I suppose not. So it shouldn’t matter that certain parts of “The Bliss” earn the song its “Lola Montez 2.0” moniker. The blatant similarities to “Lola Montez” did irk me at first, but the more I’ve listened, the less bothersome it becomes. “The Bliss” is distinct enough from its predecessor, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a love song of sorts, bursting with positivity and sugar-sweet vocal harmonies. The thumping banjo-centric bridge is an adventurous yet appropriate breather. All in all, the track works. Not to say Volbeat hasn’t “done this before”, but at least it’s less bland than “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown”. Oh, and an alternate version titled “For Evigt” is also available. Check that one out too.

Seal the Deal: My favorite of these 3 singles. Its lead riff is fairly standard sleaze-rock, emitting copious party vibes. The energy never lets up, even as the bridge section slows the tempo momentarily. The chorus is fittingly hook-y, including a well-calculated key change for the song’s final moments. Rob Caggiano serves up a ripping solo as well. Again, not reinventing the wheel, but “Seal the Deal” executes so damn well.

If all thirteen tracks on the LP resemble what we’ve heard thus far, then redundancy is going to be a weighty issue on Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie. This 3-track sampling suggests we’ll be in for something enjoyable, but nothing special. While we’d all prefer special, enjoyable is not the end of the world. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

 

 

April 2016 Album Round Up!

April 2016 was an insane month in my life. My final run as a college student, I spent my weekends living out of a suitcase and traveling up and down the East coast to visit friends at their respective schools before real life shows up and steps on our dreams. If I ever become a full-blown alcoholic, I will have April 2016 to blame. But in between binges on Jack Daniels, Xanax, and God knows what else, here are some releases that were the soundtrack to my escape (yep, that was an intentional In Flames reference!).

Weezer (The White Album) – Weezer

I couldn’t think of a better set of tunes to kick off the beginning of Spring. I haven’t heard anything from Weezer in over a decade that I’ve wanted to hear again, but the White Album is excellent. It has this light-hearted bounce to it that’s irresistible. It’s also succinct, not letting any of its ten songs slip through the cracks. Whether Nirvana deserves royalties for the “Lithium”-esque “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori” is anyone’s guess, but it’s a hell of an album either way. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Gore – Deftones

Quite possibly my album of the year thus far. I’ve never been a Deftones guy, but Gore converted me. It has layers upon layers so it takes a few listens, but if you allow yourself to go along for the ride, you’re in for something special. Chino Moreno’s vocal performance on choruses like “Phantom Bride”, “Prayers/Triangles”, “Xenon”, and “Hearts/Wires” is breathtaking. I’ve especially beat “Phantom Bride” to death. My God. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Views – Drake

Drizzy’s highly anticipated fourth album fluctuates between mildly underwhelming and utterly cringe-inducing. Views finds the Canadian-born superstar stagnating musically and regressing lyrically. Bars like “got so many chains they call me Chaining Tatum” and “Girl let me rock your body/Justin Timberlake” drag listeners back to 2009 kicking and screaming for the “hashtag rap” era. The crying shame is that the first six tracks are excellent, but things nosedive quickly, save a couple late-album highlights like the Rihanna-assisted “Too Good”. A major letdown. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

You’ll Pay For This – Bear Hands

For Brooklyn, NY’s Bear Hands, album number three was a pivotal one. What an oversaturated market these guys are in. They are based in Brooklyn and they play electronic-infused indie Rock. Gonna go out on a limb and say it’s been known to happen. But You’ll Pay For This, while it doesn’t do much to distinguish itself stylistically, distinguishes itself in terms of quality. It’s simply a cut above its peers. And angst-ridden young adults will feel right at home with its lyrical content. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Layers – Royce da 5’9

In early March, Detroit OG Royce da 5’9 dropped “Tabernacle”, the best Hip-Hop single of 2016 thus far, to promote his sixth solo album Layers. It was intensely personal and deeply moving, with stellar storytelling and grade-A production. The opening track of the LP, it’s followed by a set of cuts that, understandably so, don’t quite measure up to it. A majority are enjoyable, while some, like “America”, “Off”, and “Startercoat”, are on the boring side. It’s thoughtfully sequenced, with Royce’s lady problems woven in and out of typical lyrical flexing. But here’s the thing about Royce that fans should understand by now. If you are in the market (as I am) for old school lyricism and for flows that are more derivative of Nas than Future or Lil’ Wayne, the reliable Nickel Nine will deliver. And if you’re not, move along because there’s nothing here for you. Simple as that. RECOMMENDED

Dust – Tremonti

This is the strangest record of the month for me. NOT musically mind you – it’s actually pretty straightforward Metal-tinged Hard Rock. But given that Dust is simply “part 2” of the same recording sessions that produced last year’s Cauterize – an album I didn’t hate but was pretty lukewarm on – I am SHOCKED at how much better it is! Still trying to wrap my head around that. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Book of Shadows II – Zakk Wylde

20 years after Zakk Wylde’s mellow cult classic Book of Shadows, we’re blessed with part two. Better late than never! Like its predecessor, Book of Shadows II is best enjoyed on an overcast, hungover Sunday or, once October rolls around, a brisk Fall afternoon with some foliage. It’s beautifully gloomy, and Wylde’s gravelly vocals make you momentarily forget that he’s actually from Jersey and not a good ol’ boy belting these tunes out across his cattle farm. And even though he’s unplugged for most of it, he does plug in for RIPPING electric guitar solos on tracks like “Lay Me Down” and “Lost Prayer”. Like Mr. Wylde himself, the track list is a bit bloated, but that’s a minor complaint. RECOMMENDED

Generation Doom – Otep

Otep’s Generation Doom combines the lyrical imagination of Five Finger Death Punch with the corny delivery of In This Moment’s latest dud, sprinkling in some generic Nu Metal-isms for good measure. There are even some painful rapped passages, like in the track “Down”. We get it, Otep. You’re not a fan of conformity. You’re not a fan of the fact that America fights wars. And you appear to be upset about it. But for the love of God, please learn to communicate it in a compelling manner. I suppose Generation Doom is heavy, and I like heavy. But “heavy” is literally all it has going for it. NOT RECOMMENDED

A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson

This is Sturgill Simpson’s third LP and follow-up to the acclaimed Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Like his sophomore triumph before it, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth completely transcends Country (or what has loosely become defined as “country” in the wake of the horrific Pop-Country explosion of the last half-decade plus). Simpson is unbounded in his use of horn sections, string arrangements, and anything in between on highlights like “Breakers Roar”, “Keep It Between the Lines”, and “All Around You”. I do have a gripe with the cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom”: he made it his own, but I’m not sure the hard-hitting, singular sound of Nirvana’s debut should be tampered with in this fashion. Still, I’ve found a lot to enjoy here. I suppose “alt-country” is the categorical term, but what the hell do I know? Country is a genre I casually dip my toes into every now and then. And I’m quite glad I chose to get my feet wet with A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. RECOMMENDED

 

Hatebreed’s “A.D.” and Volbeat’s “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown” Singles

Happy April 8th, 2016 everyone! Time to grab your copies of Deftones’ Gore and Zakk Wylde’s Book of Shadows II to celebrate! In addition, I’ve written up a pair of new singles from Hatebreed and Volbeat below:

 A.D. – Hatebreed

Connecticut’s own Hatebreed will unleash their seventh album The Concrete Confessional on May 13th – a Friday the 13th already jam-packed with high-profile releases (Devildriver, Gorguts, Pierce the Veil, and the very brutal Meaghan Trainor, just to name a few). The LP’s opening track “A.D.” is our first complete taste of what’s to come, and it finds the veterans placing their Hardcore influences on the backburner for a majority of the song in favor of mid-80s Thrash, even tossing in a shred-laced guitar solo for good measure.

Even vocalist/motivational coach Jamey Jasta knows that not every Hatebreed song needs to be uplifting, positive, or hopeful – if the state of the union (or the world) is chewing at him for whatever reason, there’s no better platform. And Jasta takes advantage – A.D. is jam-packed with venomous quotables that address the crumbling of the American dream.

The latter portion of the track deals with the inaction and subsequent profiting of media and government outfits from violent shootings, acts of terrorism, and the like. Here’s a choice quote that prompted a tweet of mine (and a subsequent retweet from Hatebreed themselves): “thoughts and prayers again, is that what it’ll take? Which industries profit while lives are at stake?” HARD.

The Devil’s Bleeding Crown – Volbeat

Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie….that’s what Volbeat chose to title their new album? Hey, no complaints here – it made me chuckle, and quite frankly, anything that’s not a fucking self-titled record is fine in my book. Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie will follow two Metal-tinged Rock LPs that are absurdly well-constructed – 2010’s Beyond Hell/Above Heaven and 2013’s Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies. A band still very much in the midst of their ascent – let’s be honest, we have virtually no idea how big this could get – they could put out a by-the-book replication of their last two efforts and still receive resounding acclaim. They have become one of Rock’s most beloved and likable acts.

“The Devil’s Bleeding Crown” retains Volbeat’s familiar mammoth sound. As expected it’s completely old school, the main riff calling to mind a chunkier Wolfmother. And I suppose the ghost of Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave” will continue to hover over the genre for all of eternity, so no need for any painfully obvious insights in that regard.

The bottom line: fans of Volbeat anthems like “A Warrior’s Call” will be fully satiated by this single. But here’s to hoping there are a few twists and turns on the full record, out June 3rd.

Wolfmother – Victorious Review

The official edited version of this review is available here.

If imitation is truly a form of flattery, each new Wolfmother record marks another occasion for 70s Rock icons like Jimmy Page, Roger Daltrey, and Tony Iommi to sit back with pride and soak up their own legacies. For over a decade, the Australian trio’s calling card has been an uncompromisingly retro delivery of Hard Rock in the vein of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and several more of the genre’s key pioneers. Critically speaking, Wolfmother’s blatantly derivative nature has been a double-edged sword, although when the quality is as unmistakable as their eponymous 2006 debut – a high-water mark the band has unfortunately yet to match – it becomes difficult to take aim at Wolfmother simply because “it’s been done before”.

Album number four for the Aussies, the Brendan O’Brien-produced Victorious, is anything but a stylistic departure. Very little of its lean 36 minutes of 70s-tinged Hard Rock will contain any surprises. What is truly puzzling, however, is the LP’s incredibly odd chronological duality – its first half stands toe-to-toe with the best moments in the band’s catalogue, and its second half is astronomically bland and uninspired.

“The Love That You Give” and the title cut are perhaps the most effective opening one-two punch on a Wolfmother album to date. The former is explosive yet concise as Andrew Stockdale effortlessly channels an early-70s Ozzy Osbourne. The latter is simply larger than life, with an irresistible guitar riff and an appropriately triumphant chorus. The keyboard-laced “Baroness” is another gem, calling to mind the less spacey moments in Blue Oyster Cult’s catalogue.

The band’s crunchy Rock assault is dialed back for the folky ballad “Pretty Peggy”, a tune that’s as anthemic as it is hopelessly romantic. Its slight resemblance to Alternative contemporaries like Mumford & Sons may turn a few heads, but it’s still firmly rooted in the “Going to California” tradition more than anything else. Closing out the first half of Victorious is “City Lights”, a smooth yet upbeat showcase of exuberant Rock and Roll. Stockdale’s vocal harmonies in the chorus are particularly airtight, and producer Brendan O’Brien’s bright, vibrant mix allows the tasteful bass lines to coexist harmoniously with the razor-sharp guitars.

Then, remarkably, as if this superb handful of songs exhausted all of Stockdale’s songwriting chops, Victorious takes a nose dive into its dreadful second half. In terms of memorability, inventiveness, charisma, or any semblance of a dynamic moment, these five tracks offer close to nothing. Promises were made on the album’s outstanding first half that simply couldn’t be kept. The shift is immediately noticeable on “The Simple Life”, which is a satisfying but forgettable affair, redeemed only by a colorful harmonized guitar solo that breaks up the monotony. After the catchy but similarly underwhelming “Best of a Bad Situation”, the LP’s diminished momentum plummets with the utterly lazy “Gypsy Caravan”, which contains the most unimaginative, transparently recycled guitar riff that’s likely to appear on a Rock album in 2016. “Happy Face”, another sludgy Black Sabbath attempt, drones on directionless for its first two and a half torturous minutes, and by the time it picks up its pace – both in terms of tempo and attitude – it’s too little, too late. “Eye of the Beholder” closes the record out with an energetic stomp but another drab, throwaway chorus; at this point, the boisterous swagger of “The Love That You Give” and the title track are barely visible in the rearview mirror.

Perhaps Wolfmother’s revolving door of musicians is its Achilles heel – frontman Andrew Stockdale is essentially a one-man band in the studio, writing and performing everything on Victorious save the drums and occasional keyboards. When it comes to crafting an entire album’s worth of standout Rock music, Stockdale has a hugely demanding task in front of him with each new batch of songs. All things considered, .500 is a commendable batting average, although the record’s two sharply juxtaposed halves are certainly strange. That the track list was knowingly arranged in this fashion is doubtful, but the yin and yang on Victorious is fascinating nevertheless – how even a shining display of excellence like the front half of this record can have a looming shadow not too far behind.

Score: 3/5

Def Leppard – Def Leppard Review

With money still undoubtedly pouring in from sports arenas and strip clubs (well, mostly the latter), not to mention several blockbuster tours with the likes of Kiss, Foreigner, Tesla and others, Def Leppard has no urgency when it comes to making new music. The dreary nineties are ancient history, and in the past decade, nostalgia has done wonders for eighties rock’s biggest exports. Bret Michaels and Tommy Lee somehow remain sex symbols in their middle age, and forty and fifty-somethings are filling arena seats in droves to relive their youth with the music that defined it. One of the indisputable fixtures atop eighties rock’s Mount Rushmore, Def Leppard has the ability to continually capitalize on what they did more than a quarter century ago. Furthermore, it is well documented that bands of Def Lep’s ilk visibly struggle to sell new music, with many of their fan bases fixated solely on the classic era. Tesla’s most recent release Simplicity, for instance, sold under 15,000 copies in its first week.

Thus, Def Leppard’s brand new self-titled studio album can only be approached with one assumption in mind: they made it ‘cause they wanted to. According to guitarist Phil Collen, who has called the album the band’s best since 1987’s sales behemoth Hysteria, this free-spirited approach is precisely the reason it is self-titled. In 2015, Def Leppard represents uncharted territory for the band in terms of creative liberty and a lack of industry pressure.

The band may be on their eleventh studio album, but Def Leppard is defined by three. On last summer’s co-headlining run with Kiss, all but two of the songs on the setlist (“Let’s Get Rocked” from 1992’s Adrenalized and “Two Steps Behind” from the Retro Active compilation) were pulled from High ‘N’ Dry, Pyromania, and Hysteria, the three of which comprise a holy trinity of Def Leppard’s career, the brilliance of which cannot be overstated.

It is, therefore, far from shocking that recreating the greatness of these iconic releases is a central focus on Def Leppard, the follow-up to 2008’s decent but uneven Songs From the Sparkle Lounge. First single and album opener “Let’s Go” is a shameless yet fairly successful reprisal of “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, with frontman Joe Elliot delivering a commanding hook, accompanied by mammoth backing vocals and a stadium-ready stomp – in essence, Def Leppard circa 1987. The jubilant, upbeat “Dangerous” and the bouncy, riff-driven “Man Enough” maintain the momentum, with the former presenting itself as a blend of Hysteria cuts “Armageddon It” and Don’t Shoot Shotgun”.

Several tracks do hint at the High ‘N’ Dry and Pyromania eras of the band, most notably the straightforward “Broke ‘n’ Brokenhearted” and the uptempo “Forever Young”, but the New Wave of British Heavy Metal influence is entirely absent. Those hoping for “Another Hit and Run”, “Stagefright”, or “Mirror, Mirror”-type riffing are advised to look elsewhere.

The band does take several welcome creative risks that diversify the LP and increase its merit. The bluesy acoustic experimentation of “Battle of My Own” pays off in spades, and “Blind Faith”’s unconventional balladry is the perfect way to close things out, with ominous clean guitar arpeggios weaving their way into an acoustic bridge and some tasteful layering of string instruments. “Is it really all a matter of time?” asks Elliot as the album comes to a close.

Sonically, little differs from Songs From the Sparkle Lounge. Like its predecessor, Def Leppard benefits from a crisp, radio-ready mix, a crunchy yet crystal clear guitar tone, and an enviable snare drum sound from one-armed wonder Rick Allen. Rick Savage’s thick basslines also cut through exceptionally well on tracks like “Man Enough” and “Sea of Love”, which contains a note-heavy bass fill in the bridge section.

The album could certainly do without the bland “Invincible”, as well as “Energized”, which is anything but its namesake, dragging drab melodies across a repetitive, synth-based backdrop. Furthermore, the excellent aforementioned “Blind Faith” more than pulls it weight in the ballad department, and while the traditional “Last Dance” and the “Hysteria”-esque “We Belong” are both satisfying, the inclusion of all three is slightly excessive.

But Def Leppard succeeds more often than it fails. Predictable yet enjoyable, with just enough diversity to stand alone in the band’s discography , it more than justifies its existence. While nostalgia-driven acts like Def Leppard often struggle to generate interest in new music, this is a worthwhile listen, particularly for fans of Hysteria and the lighter moments on Pyromania.