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

The Top 40 Albums of 2015

While they are certainly a headache to some people, I fucking love doing these year end lists. Perhaps because each year this is my one piece of writing that guarantees unadulterated positivity. No complaints. No bashing. No suicide jokes. Just celebration, plain and simple. And with 2015, our ears have yet another astronomically pleasurable year to celebrate. I worked harder on this list than I have on any of my assignments in sixteen plus years of academia, with countless hours of listening and painful deliberation poured in. If you are reading this, no it’s not too late (see what I did there Drake?) to discover any gems that you might have missed the boat on!

 

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YouTube Top 15 Part 1

YouTube Top 15 Part 2

YouTube Top 15 Part 3

*Denotes a Top 15 album

Mr. Wonderful – Action Bronson: On his major label debut, Action Bronson came through with loads of personality, charisma, and a good sense of humor over some refreshingly original production. Chance the Rapper definitely makes a case for verse of the year with his hilarious guest bars on “Baby Blue”.

At.Long.Last.A$AP – A$AP Rocky: Its spacey “cloud rap” vibes make it enticing, and Rocky’s undeniable lyrical skill keeps it compelling

Inanimate Objects – Atlas Genius: One of the best of 2015 in the Indie Pop/Indie Electronica category.

Long Live – Atreyu: After a five-year hiatus, this comeback release combines the best of all eras of the band, resulting in their best album since The Curse. Here is a full review.

Psycadelik Thoughtz – B.o.B: After the double flusher that was 2013’s Underground Luxury, this under-the-radar project from B.o.B. thrives in its minimal-fucks-given experimentation, particularly in the Pop-Rap realm.

*Abysmal – The Black Dahlia Murder: Their albums all blend together a little for me so it’d be too rash for me to call this the best Black Dahlia Murder album to date, but my God if this isn’t one of the best Death Metal albums of the last few years.

*Venom – Bullet for My Valentine: A near-flawless return to classic Bullet! I was flabbergasted at how much I enjoyed this album. Here is a full review.

*That’s the Spirit – Bring Me the Horizon: A hater from day one, I am profoundly disturbed by my love of this album. Whether or not integrity is at the heart of this band’s radical stylistic transition remains to be seen, but it’s difficult not to be drawn to the raw emotion that radiates from each song.

*Emotion – Carly Rae Jepsen: Not only the Pop album of the year, but perhaps of the last few years. 80’s Pop hasn’t been this well represented on a major commercial release in some time.

*The Anthropocene Extinction – Cattle Decapitation: The finest piece of Extreme Metal released this year. Travis Ryan continues to saunter ahead of the pack vocally.

I Worship Chaos – Children of Bodom: I continue to insist that they have yet to make a bad album regardless, but I Worship Chaos, the band’s ninth, certainly sits in the upper half of Children of Bodom’s discography.

New Bermuda – Deafheaven: Achieving innovation at any level in Metal in 2015 is a challenge, yet Deafheaven manage to be completely singular with New Bermuda, their third album.

*Surf – Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment: “Fun” is the only adequate way to describe Surf. The numerous cameos, the warm horn sounds, and Chance the Rapper’s one-of-a-kind bars (on nine tracks) don’t hurt either.

Compton – Dr. Dre: Like the two Dr. Dre albums that have preceded it, a murderer’s row of all-star posse cuts and pristine production. Especially stoked to see the underrated Jon Connor get some shine on here.

If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late – Drake: Though his crooning has served him well on projects past, less wuss and more aggression were a great fit for Drake on this surprise mixtape.

I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside – Earl Sweatshirt: Earl squeezes a remarkable amount of cynical insights into 30 minutes on his second full-length.

In Times – Enslaved: They continue to prove themselves masters of Extreme Metal.

*Mr. Misunderstood – Eric Church: This surprise LP from Country Rock’s finest is, at its core, exceptionally moving. Here is a full review.

Sol Invictus – Faith No More: Who the fuck thought that a) we would ever see this, and b) it would be so damn good!

 *Meliora – Ghost: An average first album, a sophomore slump, and an outstanding third album; what a fascinating trajectory. Ghost really came into their own on all fronts with Meliora. “Cirice” in particular is a must-listen. Psyched to see it get a Grammy nod.

The Book of Souls – Iron Maiden: Just mind blowing that one of Metal’s elder statesmen are still churning out material on par with their classic stuff. Competes for best album of 21st century Maiden

90059 – Jay Rock: Jay Rock meets impossibly high expectations on 90059 by sticking to his strengths and keeping the project at a slim but forceful 11 songs.

B4.DA.$$ – Joey Bada$$: Newly 20 years old upon this debut release, I expect we’re gonna see a lot more of Joey in the coming years. His talent and his throwback lyrical style will always have a welcome place in Hip-Hop.

*To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar: Undisputed Album of the Year. No praises to sing here that haven’t already been sung.

 My Garden – Kat Dahlia: My future wife. Though the singles are still this album’s strongest material, each track moves you in a unique way.

 *VII: Sturm Und Drang – Lamb of God: Randy’s jail stint and manslaughter case resulted in the most lyrically focused and ferocious Lamb of God record I have ever heard.

 Tetsuo and Youth – Lupe Fiasco: Though I have stood by Lupe through each project, I can’t argue with people who call Tetsuo and Youth “light years ahead of all post-2007 Lupe”.

 GO:OD AM – Mac Miller: The first Mac Miller project worthy of the tag “essential Hip Hop listening”. He dropped the hyper-lyrical psychedelic persona and focused solely on good songs. Here is a full review.

 *Adventure – Madeon: Without a doubt THE party album of 2015. I’m not a connoisseur by any stretch of the word, but I have never been as enthralled with an EDM album as I am with Adventure.

The Pale Emperor – Marilyn Manson: I’m a huge Manson fan, so to see him hit an artistic peak like this late into his career is thrilling. Perfect blend of Industrial, Grunge, and a dose of Metal.

Metal Allegiance – Metal Allegiance: What really should’ve been called “Metal All-Stars” comes through as a pure celebration of anything and everything METAL.

 *Pagans in Vegas – Metric: This band continues to be my favorite in the Alternative Pop world. Three gems in a row now – they can’t be stopped!

Drones – Muse: In the band’s best since Black Holes and Revelations, they succeed immensely at a straight-ahead rock record, thanks in part to production from the legendary Mutt Lange.

*Ire – Parkway Drive: The stylistic risks taken by these Aussies on their fifth album paid off tremendously. This is the type of album Melodic Metalcore needed in 2015.

The Ride Magestic – Soilwork: (Biggie voice) *Here’s another one. And a, and a, and another one*

*Hand.Cannot.Erase – Steven Wilson: Prog master Steven Wilson makes albums so dense that conceptually, they take years to fully grasp. What is relatively easy to grasp, however, is the musical brilliance displayed throughout. Guthrie Govan’s guitar playing is a particular highlight on what certainly veers into “masterpiece” territory.

Currents – Tame Impala: I just finally heard this for the first time this month, so there will be no elaboration on this one. But my God is Kevin Parker a freakish talent.

Cauterize – Tremonti: Mark Tremonti’s solo band – in addition to Alter Bridge – is making some of the only Hard Rock that is musically interesting. “Providence” and “Flying Monkeys” stand toe-to-toe with Alter Bridge’s best material. Here is a full review.

Silence in the Snow – Trivium: I love when bands take risks. Silence in the Snow was a fucking risk and a half. While there are occasional misses, its aesthetic prevails. Not to mention, Matt Heafy turns in his best vocal performance to date.

*Blurryface – Twenty One Pilots: Alternative Rap? Alternative Rock? Pop? Electro-Pop? This fucking thing completely defies categorization, and that’s what makes it an utter joy to listen to from beginning to end. That and some of the best melodies that 2015 had to offer.

Hot Streak – The Winery Dogs: The Winery Dogs are perhaps – ironically – the most musically talented group in the Rock world aside from Dream Theater. Richie Kotzen’s songwriting and soloing make me want to just fucking quit.