August 2018 Album Round Up!

Hey guys! Psyched to make my return to Monthly Round Ups during an action-packed month! Apologies for my little hiatus – work these past several months has been an absolute bitch and it’s been straight up unrealistic to try and squeeze in several listens to 20-25 albums every four or five weeks. It just wasn’t gonna happen. But I’m proud to say that I’m back and here to stay! Kinda like when Jay-Z came out of retirement after not even a year and released a shitty ass record that no one liked but eventually went on to do things like marry Beyonce and make an album with Kanye and start his own streaming service so it was all good. Ok, maybe not quite like that. But still. God, there’s so much to break down from August 2018! I hope you’ve been keeping up via my email list and YouTube channel while I’ve been away!

Mac Miller – Swimming

Five albums and at least twenty (!) projects into his career, one fact remains: Mac Miller is a hell of a beat picker. On Swimming, he lines up an endlessly listenable and surprisingly unique platter of instrumentals, from the funky “What’s the Use?” to the jazz-tinged “Jet Fuel” to one of the sexiest beat switches I’ve ever heard in the trap-laced “Self Care”. Everybody from J. Cole to Flying Lotus to Kanye collaborator Jon Brion to fellow Pittsburgh natives ID Labs to “God’s Plan” producer Cardo contribute to this album’s impressive sound. However, another fact remains: Mac Miller doesn’t really have a whole lot to say. Even after a public split with Ariana Grande earlier this year, Miller’s lyrics on Swimming – rather than directly addressing his feelings – often find him simply crawling between various esoteric trains of thought that leave the production to carry him. I find myself wincing in the first verse of “Wings” when he clumsily points out “that’s a motif!”, and I really struggle through the bleary-eyed pseudo-raps of “Dunno”, the meandering mopefest of “Small Worlds”, and several other underwhelming lyrical moments. So while I dig this album sonically, I don’t find myself connecting with Mac’s words like I did on the lovey dovey Divine Feminine or the triumphant “I’m off drugs!” comeback that was GO:OD AM. I salute Mac for continuing to be carve out his own sound within hip-hop, but I probably won’t be returning to this all that much. NOT RECOMMENDED

Sinsaenum – Repulsion for Humanity

Back in 2016, when ex-Slipknot skinsman Joey Jordison and Dragonforce bassist Frederic Leclercq teased their new supergroup Sinsaenum as an epic collision between Black Metal and Death Metal, I was ecstatic at the thought. At the time, Behemoth’s The Satanist was the last truly great Blackened Death Metal LP I had heard, and I was aching for something new. Well, you can imagine my disappointment when Sinsaenum’s debut Echoes of the Tortured was pretty much just Morbid Angel worship with creepy keyboard interludes. But then, last year’s Ashes EP renewed my hope with a short set of killer tracks that gave me exactly what I wanted – some eerie-yet-brutal, Black Metal-infused Death Metal! So, anticipation was high for Repulsion for Humanity, the band’s sophomore outing and follow-up to Ashes.

Well, they kinda let me down again. Don’t get me wrong, Repulsion for Humanity is very well-executed, but on this record Sinsaenum spend far too much time on compositional Death Metal clichés, aimless guitar solos, and tired lyrical subject matter, rather than turning their attention towards atmosphere and genre-fusing like they did on Ashes. At the end of the day, I found more positives than negatives, but given the raw talent that this band posses, I still wish Sinsaenum would have given us more than a slightly-above-average, dime-a-dozen Death Metal record. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 Travis Scott – Astroworld

Trap powerhouse Travis Scott came in hot with album number three, armed with quite possibly the craziest guest list of any Hip-Hop release this year (Drake, Frank Ocean, James Blake, The Weeknd, Kid Cudi, Swae Lee, 21 Savage, Quavo, Juice Wrld, and Nav all appear). Not to mention, it’s a who’s who of Hip-Hop production as well, with people like Mike Dean, Hit-Boy, Cardo, Murda Beatz, Boi-1da, Thundercat, and even Tame Impala involved. If anybody has done a better job setting themselves up for an “instant classic”, I’d like to hear you argue against Travis Scott. And of course, many critics quickly obliged and gave it that label.

However, I find it surprising that any album containing a Drake verse about taking prescription drugs to fall asleep on a plane can be considered an “instant classic”. Not only do I find Drizzy’s aforementioned “Sicko Mode” verse boring, but a significant chunk of the LP as a whole, with mid-album cuts like “5% Tint”, “Astrothunder”, and “Can’t Say” lulling me to sleep. Surrounded by so many industry heavy-hitters, it’s strange but unsurprising that Scott and his familiar auto-tuned brags are the most non-essential part of this album. The beats are off the chain (see the tuneful Tame Impala and Weeknd collaboration “Skeletons” or the sensory overload of “Carousel”), and more than enough to keep me around most of the time, but Scott himself is just not that interesting to me. So, “instant classic”? Eh, don’t believe the hype. NOT RECOMMENDED

Snak the Ripper – Off the Rails

I got turned on to this amazing record by an Instagram post from Rittz (one of my favorite rappers for several years now), from whom Snak the Ripper had snagged a guest verse for the single “All Out”.

And yet again, Rittz has done great things for my life. I can’t believe how good this record is! Skill-wise, Snak is your archetypal rappity-rapper, packing dense rhyme patterns into complex, high-velocity flows, but his abundance of thoughtful content and his selection of low key, contemplative beats (see “I Ain’t Dead”, “I’m Good, or “Hourglass”) that give him room to let loose lyrically are what ultimately make him stand out. There’s not a single track I don’t like on here, but I’d especially recommend “Baby Boy”, where Snak has some touching words for his newborn son, “Driftin”, which has a super dope video with some tour footage mixed in, and “Knuckle Sandwich”, which brings on R.A. The Rugged Man for a murderous guest appearance.

Seriously, I can’t say ENOUGH good things about this LP! Should definitely end up in the year-end Hip-Hop conversation in a few months! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Jason Mraz – Know

Back in college, if you saw a corny dude wearing a fedora and strumming his Ukulele in the middle of campus, you’d make fun of him. The kid’s clearly just trying to get laid in the saddest, most transparent way possible.

Well, Jason Mraz’s albums are the sonic equivalent of that. I don’t know the guy personally, so if he really is this sunny and optimistic all the time, God bless him. Lord knows we have enough cynicism in the world at the moment. But this cutesy RomCom music is tough for me stomach. When I hear lines like “we could be bigger than cheese and macaroni” (on a song that is titled “UNLONELY”, mind you) I feel like punching him. A decade after Mraz’s most ubiquitous hits – “Lucky” and “I’m Yours” – he’s still using the same old chord progressions, the same child-like turns of phrases, and making the same manufactured Summer picnic music. NOT RECOMMENDED

 Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You For Today

I had no idea how much I missed Death Cab’s warm, comforting sound until I heard this LP. Regrettably, I skipped over 2015’s Kintsugi, so it had been around seven years. But I quickly got reacquainted thanks to misty-eyed highlights like “Autumn Love” and “Summer Years”, as well as the hooky “Northern Lights” and the contemplative intro track “I Dreamt We Spoke Again”, which almost felt Kid A-esque to me. While it fizzles out a tad with the last few tracks (I’m not crazy about the somber “You Moved Away” or the generic “Near/Far”), Thank You For Today is a wonderful way to send Summmer 2018 off, and it’s inspiring to dig back into the Death Cab catalogue a bit! RECOMMENDED

Ariana Grande – Sweetener

I realize that 2016’s Dangerous Woman might’ve been the most overplayed Pop album of that God forsaken year, but I still thought it was excellent. Even the deep cuts. I still jam it all the time. And it makes me sad that I couldn’t feel the same way about its follow-up, Sweetener. I’m very lukewarm on this one, mostly because of the beat selection. Personally, I would much rather hear Ariana’s gorgeous voice over stuff like the bluesy “Dangerous Woman” or the boy band nostalgia-invoking “Sometimes” from her last record than, say, the obnoxious Pharrell-ism “The Light is Coming” or the generic trap of “God is a Woman”. It just doesn’t excite me. Sweetener already feels a bit tired by the time the stand out single “No Tears Left to Cry” arrives ten tracks in. But I remain a fan and look forward to Ariana’s next project. NOT RECOMMENDED

Alice in Chains – Rainer Fog

Rainer Fog is now Alice in Chains’ third album during the William Duvall era of the band. It’s crazy to think about how a decade ago, replacing AIC’s late great frontman Layne Staley seemed preposterous, but this current incarnation really grew into it quickly. With Rainer Fog, the sixth LP overall from the Grunge legends, Alice continue to do justice to their legacy by making lively Hard Rock songs that feel modern and exciting – see the driving title cut or the dissonant stomp of opener “The One You Know” for further proof. It might not be a perfect record – I have trouble vibing with the bloated Sabbathian cut “Drone”, for instance – but neither was Facelift if we’re keeping it all the way real. Seriously, it wasn’t! So I don’t care how much you love their early ‘90s material – the point is, for Alice in Chains to continue to make quality music like this over thirty years into their career, it makes them….one of VERY few grunge bands to do so. RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Alkaline Trio – Is This Thing Cursed?

Blue October – I Hope You’re Happy

Bun B – Return of the Trill

Eminem – Kamikaze

Nothing – Dance on the Blacktop

Trippie Redd – Life’s a Trip

DON’T LIKE:

The Amity Affliction – Misery

Black Tusk – T.C.B.T.

Excision – Apex

Matoma – One in a Million

Plain White T’s – Parallel Universe

YG – Stay Dangerous

 

 

 

 

 

August 25th Singles: Taylor Swift, Miguel, Demi Lovato & more!

So, Summer ‘17 is essentially over. Whether you spent it at camp, or down in Argentina building houses or some type of “do-gooder” shit, or you just continued to slave away at your 9-5 with one less layer of clothing on like I did, I hope these last few months advanced your life forward in some type of positive way. But most importantly, of course, let’s hope Rick Ross’s entire posse got rich like he firmly suggested would be the case. ‘Cause ultimately, that’s what matters in life. Rick Ross’s posse.

Anyway, the end of summer means that the back-to-school music rush is upon us! These next couple months are gonna be as wonderful a time as ever to be a fan of stuff that involves notes, rhythms, melodies, singing, yelling, or anything that remotely resembles music.

With countless release dates stacking up, we began to see a lot of high-profile singles popping up this past week. So many, in fact, that I felt compelled to write about what I heard. For this article, I specifically went after all the A-list stuff. Sure, I could’ve talked about the new Arch Enemy song or whatever, but isn’t it more fun to talk about things that make people gobs of money? Like a Taylor Swift album cycle launch? No? Well, too bad.

Here’s a quick synopsis of a bunch of big-time singles that came out on or around this past Friday:

Sky Walker (feat. Travis Scott) – Miguel

BANGER ALERT! Wow. I’m not sure what floors me the most, how flawlessly Miguel crafted this more Hip-Hop influenced, Weeknd-ish ode to self-indulgence and bravado, or how well Travis Scott’s voice gels with his. Scott is like Miguel’s drug-soaked, auto-tuned sidekick – the two have so much chemistry, you’d think they’ve already done a whole album together (and hey, after hearing this, I’d probably want that to happen!) And this track, while smooth and swaggering as all hell, also has a bit of a goofy, tongue-in-cheek, wink-wink-nudge-nudge kind of thing going on, ‘cause after all, the ridiculous line “Luke Skywalkin’ on these haters!” is part of the refrain.

I don’t know when the next Miguel album is dropping, but whenever that is, I want an album full of THIS!

You Can’t Control It – Jack Johnson

 Listening to this infinitely soothing new single from Jack Johnson – a master of folky singer-songwriter pleasantries – I can practically feel my inner tension loosening. It’s almost like a massage (well, minus the part where you roll over and offer 60 bucks for a happy ending).

The third single from his forthcoming seventh album All the Light Above It Too, “You Can’t Control It” is not only pure calming pleasure sonically – featuring sweet, gentle guitar melodies married with Johnson’s reverb-drenched croon – but there’s something so freeing about hearing that phrase, “You Can’t Control It”. ‘Cause when you walk around feeling like everything is up to you, and everything is your responsibility, you apply this immense pressure to yourself that can be suffocating at times (for instance, I didn’t sleep a wink a couple nights ago because, well, I did just that). Perhaps this song is Johnson’s best cure for what he refers to here as “the war within your head; one that you could never win.”

Look What You Made Me Do – Taylor Swift

As the Internet has already redundantly established, T. Swift’s first solo track in nearly three years is fucking terrible. Why have I – and thousands, if not millions of other irritated eardrums – come to this conclusion? Well, there’s a lot of reasons. I will outline three of them:

Reason 1: the unbearable corniness of the “Kanye West diss” that’s at the heart of it. “I’ve got a list of names and yours is in red, underlined”……oooo, no you didn’t Taylor! Or how about my personal favorite line, when Taylor defiantly chirps: “I got harder in the nick of time”? Hey, it’s always good to know that T. Swift can come through with some clutch erections down the stretch.

Reason 2: the obnoxious hook. Which, by the way, I was so busy being angry at it that I didn’t even pick up on the fact that it was an interpolation of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy”. Shame on me. But it still sucks. And it’s about as likeable as Meaghan Trainor’s “Me Too”. Yeah, I went there.

Reason 3: worst of all, this song is attempting to be some sort of Dance-Pop. Meaning it might start getting played in bars….meaning after paying some bullshit cover charge, I might have to turn around and walk out on all of my friends if it comes on. Either that, or I’ll have to stay home for the next 15 months until the coast is clear.

But who knows, maybe the album will be decent. It’s still early.

You Already Know (feat. Nicki Minaj) – Fergie

After over four years of rumors and eleven total years of elapsed time since her solo debut, Fergie Ferg is finally dropping her sophomore LP Double Dutchess on September 22nd. One of its singles (“L.A. Love”) is three years old. Two more of them we already heard a while ago too. Can’t say I’ve got much going on in the anticipation department when it comes to this record.

Stylistically, Fergie’s been trying a lot of shit. I already gave my mixed two cents on her tropical house adventures on “Life Goes On”, and I think we can all agree that “M.I.L.F. $” (which will also appear on Double Dutchess) is a tasteless Hip-Pop attempt. As for “You Already Know”? It’s a little better, but not by much. It’s obviously crafted for high-energy dancefloor type situations, but Fergie’s obnoxious and completely overcooked rapping steps all over the beat. Nicki Minaj brings a bit of genuine lyrical finesse to offset it, but ever since the record-shattering horror that was Fergie’s “All of the Lights” appearance, I just can’t take her seriously when she tries to rap.

 Tell Me You Love Me – Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato is yet another A-lister ramping up for a late-September album release. “Tell Me You Love Me” is our second taste of her forthcoming sixth record of the same name, and I gotta say, this is one of my favorite Pop songs of the Summer.

I hate using the term “empowering” – in my mind, it often equates to corny Liberalspeak – but this track does have such an uplifting sound that it’s tough to squeeze in any other adjective. The instrumental during the chorus absolutely KNOCKS – those triumphant horns and the booming snare and bass are a hell of a combo. And lyrically, if you ask me, there’s something so sweet and so romantic about admitting to a (SMALL) degree of co-dependence – strong relationships are, after all, partially built on a mutual feeling of importance in each other’s lives, and that’s something Lovato captures beautifully here. Hopefully this one doesn’t get beaten to death by radio.

Pizza – Martin Garrix

Bookended by a sweeping cinematic build-up and comedown, the latest single from this Dutch EDM Wunderkind is a sunny, rapturous burst of energy. What I first saw as cheesy and cookie-cutter has evolved into a fun, simplistic escape and a slight guilty pleasure for me. Truth be told, this song breaks exactly ZERO ground as a stereotypical House track (don’t let the intro and outro distract you into thinking otherwise), but it continues to grow on me with repeated listens. Gonna be a great tune to soundtrack some end-of-summer hangouts.

September 2016 Album Round Up!

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

Bad Vibrations – A Day To Remember

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

Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight – Travis Scott

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

Winter’s Gate – Insomnium 

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

Natural Causes – Skylar Grey

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

Yellowcard – Yellowcard

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

The Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown

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

Creatures Watching Over the Dead – Charred Walls of the Damned

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

The Altar – Banks

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

The Divine Feminine – Mac Miller

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

Sorceress – Opeth

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

Schmilco – Wilco

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