July 2017 Album Round Up!

And so concludes (well, almost three weeks ago now) my least productive month of the year. I’m not gonna lie, I spent most of July either working myself to death at things that, you know, actually make money, or spending my “free time” blowing off all my hobbies to zone out and do nothing. Though I’m frustrated with how the past few weeks have gone – seriously, I haven’t shot a YouTube video in over a month… I’m practically gonna forget how to do it – the sheer act of writing this post is making me excited to jump back in with both feet.

As far as the albums below, don’t expect any sort of brilliant insight or compelling analysis from me; I was very passive with nearly everything I did this month, and unfortunately that included how I consumed music. But that doesn’t mean I had a shortage of opinions! I’m actually pleasantly surprised at the strength of July’s release calendar this year, especially since I remember writing something a year ago about how July is usually a dull, relatively uneventful time of year for new music. But I’m happy to say that in 2017 I was wrong as a motherfucker! Here’s to all the great new songs that have seeped their way into my life, and most of all, here’s to getting back on track!

Flower Boy – Tyler, The Creator

With his first major label studio album Flower Boy, Tyler, The Creator stripped away some of the over-the-top absurdity (both sonically and lyrically) of his past works and gave us both his most accessible, mature, laser-focused project to date. It’s full of the music that I always felt like Tyler had in him but was never gonna make – it’s a wonderfully shocking surprise. On this entirely self-produced affair, Tyler’s instrumentals are impressively diverse – “Who Dat Boy” is a tense banger with a mix meant for bumping in the whip, “See You Again” has a slight cinematic touch, whereas the closing cut “Enjoy Right Now, Today” has an almost cartoonish-ly upbeat, hopeful, and optimistic vibe to it. Oh, and I also gotta mention the nostalgia-laced November as a standout track! I can’t recommend Flower Boy enough as an honest, gimmick-free look into one of Hip-Hop’s most unique minds. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Autobiography – Vic Mensa

With what is quite possibly my favorite Hip-Hop release of the entire Summer, the 2014 XXL Freshman unleashed a phenomenal debut album that more than justifies all of the hype surrounding him (if last year’s EP There’s A Lot Going On didn’t already). Not only do I love the way he SOUNDS on a beat, but the guy can rap his fucking ass off, as showcased on the syllable-stacking first verse in “Killa Cam”, or the particularly impressive “Heaven on Earth”, which finds Mensa spitting three different intricate verses from three different perspectives. As promised by the title, these tracks are deeply introspective, personal, and often narrative driven – the Weezer-sampling “Homewrecker” describes a turbulent relationship, and “Wings” features a self-hating tantrum in the vein of Kendrick Lamar’s “u”. But Mensa still has time to sneak in an absolute banger with “Rollin’ Like a Stoner”, which is what would happen if Kid Cudi’s “Day ‘n Nite” got in a time capsule and merged with Travi$ Scott. To top it all off, cuts like “The Fire Next Time” prove that Mensa knows his way around a hook too. I am beyond impressed – I can’t wait to see what this guy does next. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Everything Now – Arcade Fire

With Arcade Fire’s hugely anticipated follow-up to 2013’s Reflektor (an album that, four years later, critics are still furiously jerking off to), I’m having some difficulty wholeheartedly embracing their latest change of direction. Featuring a very prominent dance music vibe, Everything Now often feels like I’m listening to Indie Rock meets Disco meets Lonerism-era Tame Impala. And though there are definitely some high points, such as the funky basslines in “Good God Damn” and the uber melodic, almost syrupy “Put Your Money on Me”, this record’s sound has left me less than enthusiastic. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for now and suggest that you give it a whirl (after all, I may still just be overly attached to 2011’s The Suburbs), but I’m gonna need a lot of convincing to avoid labeling Everything Now as Arcade Fire’s weakest record to date. RECOMMENDED

Ritual – In This Moment

I have followed In This Moment for eight years now, but I’ve only been able to tolerate their music for about four of those years. The band’s increasing descent towards cookie cutter Alt-Metal – which reached an apex with 2014’s vapid Black Widow – is something I just CANNOT get into. The trend continues on Ritual, another LP that finds me equally annoyed with its hyper-processed sound and Maria Brink’s histrionic vocals. Worst of all, the cover of “In the Air Tonight” is in extremely poor taste – the band drowns the Genesis classic in overly showy, bombastic melodrama. But I have to praise the sleazy Party Metal vibes of “Black Wedding”, which features a killer appearance from Rob Halford and a wonderfully creepy piano line. I enjoy the acoustic guitar playing on “Twin Flames”, as well as the Pop-Metal number “Joan of Arc”, which is heavily reminiscent of late-90s Marilyn Manson. Ritual is not a total disaster by any means, but I won’t be returning to it. NOT RECOMMENDED

Issa Album – 21 Savage

When it comes to 21 Savage and I, it’s really as simple as this: I do NOT understand the appeal. At all. The guy’s M.O. seems to be to create the ultimate hood soundtrack, but in my experience, the Hip-Hop albums that best capture the essence of the underworld and bring it to life (e.g. Young Jeezy’s debut album) are much more forcefully self-assured in bravado, vivid in stories, and lively in energy. To me, 21 Savage’s music is not “lit” at all – in fact, it puts the lights OUT and makes me doze off. Couple that with some truly atrocious rhyming (on “Dead People” he says he’s “single like a pringle”) and you have Issa Album. An album it may be, but I can’t say issa good album. NOT RECOMMENDED

Lust for Life – Lana Del Rey

 Man, I could listen to Lana Del Rey’s silky, reverb-soaked vocals all day long. Her fifth full-length LP is some of the best music to just zone out to, whether it’s the ethereal eroticism of the title cut (which, whoever thought of that Weeknd collab is a brilliant, brilliant human being), the entrancing ballad “Cherry”, or the Hip-Hop infused “Summer Bummer”, the latter which is driven home by Playboi Carti and A$AP Rocky’s hazy guest rhymes. A truly one-of-a-kind talent, Lana has now delivered four excellent albums in a row, shoring up one of the strongest discographies of this decade. Much like Lorde, she’s an A-list mainstream sensation whose music, refreshingly, offers anything but the status quo. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Consume – Integrity

After only 30 years and nine full-length studio albums, I’ve finally hopped on board for Integrity’s tenth record. Approaching Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Consume, I was under the impression that Integrity was a Hardcore Punk band, but after ripping through this track list a few times, I felt like “Hardcore” is a label that so reduces the wide scope with which this band – and this LP – approaches heavy music. Alongside more straight-ahead muscular mosh music (“Burning Beneath the Devil’s Cross”) is Thrash (“Hymn for the Children of the Black Flame”), a bit of Black Metal (“Blood Sermon”), and even some New Wave of British Heavy Metal influences (“Die With Your Boots On”). This album took me on a wild, exciting ride through many corners of the Metal genre, and has me anxious to dive into Integrity’s back catalogue. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Forest Seasons – Wintersun

Why the fuck is everyone being so tough on this album? Who cares if Wintersun – one of Metal’s least prolific and most enigmatic bands to come out of the 21st century – wants to release three albums in the span of 13 years?? How about we just judge this as the great Metal record that it is, instead of holding it to some lofty expectations that result from that whole “well, if it took this long, it’s gotta be….” type of thinking. The Forest Seasons may not reach the heights of Wintersun’s masterful self-titled debut, but it’s an exciting combination of Symphonic Metal, Melodic Death Metal, and some touches of Black Metal and Power Metal here and there. It’s like Insomnium plus Dimmu Borgir plus Children of Bodom and a touch of Nightwish. In a month where I barely listened to any Metal, Wintersun gave me my fix with this incredibly engaging, dynamic record. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Low Blows – Meg Mac

Though up-and-coming Australian singer/songwriter Meg Mac definitely has a few excellent tunes under her belt (namely the swaggering, self-assured “Never Be”, which I couldn’t stop listening to while I was interning at her label a couple summers ago), I’ve found her debut album to be pretty vanilla. Which, that doesn’t necessarily carry a negative connotation – Mac has an undeniable ear for melody, vocal harmony, and simple but effective arrangements – but I’ve been struggling to come up with reasons to replay this LP. I suppose it’s not helped by a couple of bland throwaways (e.g. “Shiny Bright”) that bog down its second half. If you’re into the singer/songwriter genre, Low Blows is definitely an album worth your attention, but I don’t see myself coming back to it much. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Jungle Rules – French Montana

Dead Reflection – Silverstein

Tha Truth, Pt. 3 – Trae Tha Truth

Hug of Thunder – Broken Social Scene

Sacred Hearts Club – Foster the People

DON’T LIKE:

Steve Aoki Presents Kolony – Steve Aoki

Anticult – Decapitated

Defying Gravity – Mr. Big

Crook County – Twista

 

November 2016 Album Round Up!

Hey everyone! Nine days into December, I hope all the obnoxious repeats of Mariah Carey, Wham!, and God knows what else by your “spirited” friends and family haven’t broken you yet. I love how these fucking people try to make me feel like the Grinch just ‘cause I don’t want to hear the same five songs every day for a month. I actually love a lot of Christmas tunes, but as someone who will listen to Grindcore on Wednesday, Disco on Thursday, and Shoegaze on Friday, it’s the lack of variety that kills me.

Anyway, ya boy’s in full-on Year End List mode!!! “List Season”, as I deem it, is my favorite time of year every year! I have tons of fun holing myself up for hours on end listening, re-listening, and deliberating for hours on end about lists that 95% of people don’t give two fucks about. But I do give two fucks, and I’ve got a lot to say this year. I’ve already published one list on YouTube, and several more are on their way! Stay tuned! In the meantime, here are eight records I checked out last month. Keep it gangsta.

Battles – In Flames

Sometimes I seriously wonder who the In Flames fanbase consists of at this point. They’ve now spent over a decade making syrupy Metalcore-ish music that seems to have an inverse time-quality relationship (translation: it keeps getting shittier). This newest one, while not as terrible as 2014’s Siren Charms, takes some vocal cues from Bring Me the Horizon (the “melodic gang vocals” that show up in “The End”, “The Truth”, and the final chorus in “Here Until Forever”), puts some late-‘90s In Flames in the microwave, and then overproduces the shit out of it. I actually didn’t mind it that much, but I’ll be sticking with The Jester Race. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest

The Queens legends’ swansong and first record in almost 18 years, We Got It From Here picks up RIGHT where classic Tribe albums like Midnight Marauders left off. I’m astonished at how effortlessly these three veterans manage to make music with the same charisma and gusto that they had a quarter of a century ago. This LP is loaded with all kinds of exciting features (Andre 3000, Talib Kweli, Kendrick Lamar, Busta Rhymes, and even Elton John), but ironically, it’s just icing on the cake – the core of the record is three of Hip-Hop’s (dare I say) elder statesmen taking the kids to school. I’m blown away. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

24k Magic – Bruno Mars

I can’t believe Bruno Mars took almost four years to follow up Unorthodox Jukebox! It doesn’t feel that long ago at all, right? Well, he’s back with a third record that expands on the unapologetic throwback sound of “Uptown Funk”, his collaborative smash with producer Mark Ronson. 24K Magic is almost entirely rooted in nostalgia for the Pop and R & B of the ‘80s and ‘90s – much of the production is synth driven, with bombastic clapping snares and funky basslines.  Many of these songs have a brazen sexuality, a dose of braggadocio, and are fairly lighthearted, making for a simple, quick, and easy listen. For me, some of it connects and some of it doesn’t. “Chunky”, “That’s What I Like”, and “24K Magic” are three of my favorite Pop songs of 2016, while I could do without the obnoxious “Perm” and the dull closing ballad “Too Good to Say Goodbye”. Currently, the addictive title track is this LP’s only single, but I imagine that’ll change soon. Future single predictions: “Chunky” and “Versace on the Floor”. RECOMMENDED

Hardwired…To Self-Destruct – Metallica

God, my life was so fucking different the last time Metallica put out a record. Death Magnetic came out EIGHT FUCKING YEARS AGO! Wow. Well, the Thrash legends are finally back with another underwhelming but solid LP. My main issue with much of Metallica’s music remains intact: the meandering song structures. These songs are essentially just piles of riffs stacked on top of each other with little regard for concision or quality control. So there ends up being lots of wasted space. The upside, of course, is James Hetfield delivers a ton of riff gems amongst the wasted space. Fans should be (and seem) happy. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Black America Again – Common

Common’s soulful 11th album is – as its title may suggest – loaded with impassioned social commentary, particularly as it pertains to race relations in America. The powerful title track addresses the Flint water crisis, refers to mass incarceration as “the new plantation”, and comments on racism in sports (“Maria Sharapova making more than Serena”). It all feels like a call-to-action for the black community. While profound and sobering, these weighty themes do start to take their toll on the listener, which is why light-hearted breathers like “Love Star”, “Unfamiliar”, and “Red Wine” are helpful. But for me, the best thing about Black America Again is Common’s bars! Look no further than the song “Pyramids” or the amazing first verse on “A Bigger Picture Called Free” for lyrical gymnastics that we haven’t heard from the Chicago OG in forever. He does some of the best rapping of his career on here. And content-wise, he has a lot to say. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Starboy – The Weeknd

 Cut out the filler, kids. The Weeknd’s third studio Starboy would’ve been one of the best albums of the year if he had done just that. There is so much FIRE on here, particularly on the first half of the record, but as a listener, I feel like he wastes a good 20 minutes of my time within these 18 tracks. “Attention, “Rockin”, Nothing Without You”, “All I Know”…these all could’ve gotten the axe. STILL, I have been bumping this LP non-stop since it came out – I really do love its tortured-partier themes, its butter smooth production, The Weeknd’s unique croon, and the night-time atmosphere the songs suck me into. The title track is one of 2016’s greatest moments, and there are a good eight or nine other bangers on here that I’m gonna continue to vibe with. RECOMMENDED

Atoma – Dark Tranquillity 

One of my favorite Metal bands of all time and I didn’t review this, even though I wrote about the singles and everything. Why? Well, I didn’t have much to say about it. If I reviewed it, I would’ve given it a strong 7/light 8 and said something to the effect of “this is another great DT album”. But at this point, there are already ten of those! So even though the music is solid on Atoma, it’s starting to feel like I’ve heard everything I’m gonna hear from them. So I cherry-picked my favorite tracks (“Atoma”, “Forward Momentum”, “Our Proof of Life”, “Clearing Skies”) and moved on. I’m hoping for a bit more surprises next go ‘round! RECOMMENDED

Built to Last – Hammerfall

Power Metal mainstays Hammerfall are on their tenth album now. And if you didn’t already expect a rehashing of the band’s other nine LPs, the third track “Sacred Vow” uses multiple previous song titles as lyrics. Look, if you’re into this type of Power Metal – Priest/Maiden throwback sound combined with corny lyrics about warriors, I can definitely recommend Hammerfall’s Steel Meets Steel compilation from 2007 (particularly the second disc). But this record here? You don’t need to hear it. It’s the exact same shit. I’m not gonna say Built to Last is a bad album, ‘cause it’s not a blatantly “bad” album. I just don’t particularly care that it exists. NOT RECOMMENDED