October 2017 Album Round Up!

Why is it that every single year, the last week of October is always the greatest (and, well, busiest) week of the year for music listeners? As much as I know it isn’t, it feels so random to me. If I were a musician, I’d honestly feel comfortable with any release date between the months of April and June, or September to November. But there must be something about this particular week that only the accountants at Atlantic, Columbia and Warner Bros. can explain.

On October 28th of last year, I remember walking out of F.Y.E. with the biggest shit-eating grin on my face, now in possession of brand new records from Avenged Sevenfold, Testament, Serpentine Dominion, and Empire of the Sun. And I’d still barely scratched the surface. 2017 was no different. On October 27th, an overwhelming influx of new music saw the light of day, including but not limited to: Blut Aus Nord, Yelawolf, The Used, Yo Gotti, Weezer, Ty Dolla $ign, Hollywood Undead, Theory of a Deadman, and Winds of Plague. Whew. I’m still catching up. Which might explain why this fucking Round Up is getting posted two days before Thanksgiving.

I hope you enjoy my thoughts on this month’s albums, and believe me – there is a LOT to look forward to by the end of the year! I’ve already giddily begun prepping my numerous Year-End lists, so definitely stay tuned! And for God’s sake, please watch that credit limit this Friday. We wouldn’t want to buy a fucking boat for some middle manager at Visa.

The Sin and the Sentence – Trivium

 The eighth record from these mainstream Metal mainstays (and my personal favorite band from ages 13 – 15) is nothing short of a return to form. The band’s creative decline that plagued their last six years of music – beginning with 2013’s stale Vengeance Falls and continuing with the divisive, radio-friendly Silence in the Snow in 2015 – abruptly ends here with a set of tracks that up the ante considerably on aggression and on musicianship, the latter in part due to the addition of virtuoso drummer Alex Bent. Aside from a few missteps in the track list (e.g. the whiny throwaway ballad “Endless Night”), The Sin and the Sentence should electrify diehard supports and galvanize old fans whose support has waned in recent years.In particular, “Thrown Into the Fire” and “The Revanchist” are two of the best songs of Trivium’s entire career. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Pacific Daydream – Weezer

 Frankly, I’m still enjoying the hell out of The White Album – Weezer’s 2016 effort that found its way onto my Top 10 Albums of the Year last December – so it wasn’t gonna be the end of the world for me if the band’s surprisingly quick follow-up was a slight disappointment. And I’m glad the stakes were low, because as it just so happens, Pacific Daydream was exactly that. Forgettable, cookie cutter material like “Mexican Fender” and “Get Right” are severe momentum killers on both the front and back end of this 34-minute LP. All was not lost, however – mid-album highlights like the wistful “Happy Hour” and the knockout hook on “Weekend Woman” kept it from being a total letdown. We’ll just have to wait and see if the band’s forthcoming Black Album finds them back on track. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Trial By Fire – Yelawolf

One of 2017’s brightest gems that I never saw coming, Yelawolf’s barely-promoted third studio album finds the ambitious but wildly inconsistent Alabama MC finally putting all the pieces together on Trial By Fire, his exceptional third LP for Eminem’s Shady Records. All of my favorite music has one thing in common: it takes you out of your surroundings and transports you to another world, and Yelawolf does exactly that on here. Soundtracked with an imaginative fusion of Country, Blues, Folk, Rock, and Hip-Hop, Yelawolf brings you straight down to his native Alabama with intensely autiobiographical dirt road rhymes and his singular, snarling Southern drawl. We’ll surely be chatting about Trial By Fire next month when I recap my favorite Hip-Hop albums of 2017, but for now, at least check out essential tracks like “Ride or Die”, the Juicy J-assisted “Punk”, and the haunting “Sabrina”. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Lil’ Pump – Lil’ Pump

 I cannot believe this nonsense hit number 3 on the Billboard Charts. I could make this whole mixtape in five minutes. Lil’ Pump’s brand of “Soundcloud” rap is as obnoxious as it is repetitive – there’s absolutely nothing redeeming about the headache-inducing flows on songs like “Gucci Gang”, “Crazy”, and the opener “What U Sayin’”. And even the star power of Rick Ross on “Pinky Ring” doesn’t help, because that discordant fire alarm-mimicking instrumental makes me genuinely angry for the duration of the song, regardless of who’s rhyming. Maybe I’m out of touch, but I really don’t understand what any of these hipster critics see in this shit. NOT RECOMMENDED

Judas – Fozzy

 One of my least favorite Rock releases of the entire year, the seventh LP from Fozzy – the band fronted by WWE Superstar Chris Jericho – is overproduced, formulaic Radio-Rock trash. “Three Days in Jail” is a particularly embarrassing moment as the band briefly attempt to resurrect Nu Metal (yes, rapping and all!) before returning to their cookie cutter Butt Rock. It’s a shame, because I’ve considered myself a fan since I was a teeanger (Chasing the Grail and Sin and Bones still get regular rotation in my car), but Judas better not indicate the direction the band is headed, or they’ve lost me. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Super Slimey – Future & Young Thug

 If people’s would’ve just fucking RELAXED with their unreasonable expectations for this high-profile Watch the Throne-type collab between two of Hip-Hop’s hottest acts, I guarantee they would’ve all enjoyed Super Slimey a hell of a lot more. I sure did. It’s noticeably unrefined and it’s far from perfect, but bangers like “Three” and the Offset-featuring “Patek Water”, as well as the hazy “All Da Smoke” made this auto-tuned meeting of the minds more than worth it. Especially when compared with Future and Drake’s lackluster collaborative What a Time To Be Alive tape from two years ago. RECOMMENDED

Nightbringers – Black Dahlia Murder

 Chalk up another “W” for Black Dahlia Murder. Their first LP to feature lead guitarist Brandon Ellis finds the Michigan metallers right back in tip-top form – in particular, the tracks “As Good As Dead” and the title cut now rank in my top 10 songs of the band’s entire sixteen year career. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Beautiful Trauma – P!nk

 A true dud from the Pop world this past month, the rest of P!nk’s seventh album proves to be even sappier and more vanilla than its sappy and vanilla lead single, “What About Us”. Despite a decent chorus or two (e.g. “Better Life”) or the catchy dance pulse of “Secrets”, there’s just too much major label money riding on this record for it to be interesting. Not even Eminem’s guest appearance on “Revenge” is interesting, and significantly less interesting is P!nk’s pseudo-rapping attempts on that same track. Yikes. NOT RECOMMENDED

 E – Enslaved

 One of the Black Metal’s most important and adventurous trailblazers, Enslaved have been pushing the genre’s envelope for over a quarter century now, constantly searching for more clever ways to fuse the style’s more traditional sounds with the likes of Prog Metal and even various types of Rock music. On E, the band take another step forward, crafting masterful Blackened Prog Metal epics (if that’s, I guess, a genre now?) like “Hiindsiight” and “Sacred Horse”, which co-exist harmoniously alongside more direct cuts like “The River’s Mouth” and “What Else Is There”. An absolutely essential Metal listen, and an outstanding achievement even by Enslaved’s lofty standards. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Losing Sleep – Chris Young

Given that his new LP consists of only ten tracks and a runtime of exactly a half hour, I figured it wasn’t a huge investment to give Country superstar Chris Young a shot. This year I’ve finally started to acquire a taste for one of music’s most critically dismissed genres – good ol’ Country – and Young is one of dozens of beloved mainstream artists that I’ve yet to try on for size. Well, you can imagine my disdain when I was greeted with the exact type of Pop Country genericism that makes people discriminate against this style of music. More often than not, the central lyrical topic of this album is just fucking DRINKING, and nothing else. And the closer “Blacked Out” is supposed to be this tear-stained, heartbroken ballad, but it comes across so shallow with its references to Ray Bans and Mustangs and ten thousand more allusions to – you guessed it – drinking. For Country music in October 2017, the real winner was Darius Rucker with his new LP When Was the Last Time – you’re better off checking out that one and giving Losing Sleep a hard pass. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Thinking Out Loud – Young Dolph

When Was the Last Time – Darius Rucker

Blood of My Enemy – Winds of Plague

4Eva Is a Mighty Long Time – Big K.R.I.T.

Heaven Upside Down – Marilyn Manson

Reaper – Nothing.Nowhere.

DON’T LIKE:

True View – Stick to Your Guns

Cold Like War – We Came As Romans

False Idol – Veil of Maya

I Still Am – Yo Gotti

Beach House 3 – Ty Dolla $ign

Deus Salutius Meae – Blut Aus Nord

 

Trivium’s “The Sin and the Sentence” Single

Nearly two years since 2015’s risky, deliberately minimal Silence in the Snow, the most hateable Metal band on the planet is back with LP number eight, and – I can only assume – another polarizing sound.

Silence in the Snow was perhaps Trivium’s sharpest, ballsiest left turn since 2006’s wildly controversial The Crusade, the infamous record that saw vocalist Matt Heafy abandon the heaven-and-hell scream/sing approach that was prevalent at the time for an opportunity to do his best James Hetfield impersonation. Silence of the Snow found the band once again scrapping their signature screamed vocals from the playbook and intentionally writing simpler, more melodic songs as a way to emulate ‘70s and ‘80s greats like Rainbow and Iron Maiden. The experiment had mixed results, but I admired the effort. I always prefer bands try something new.

Fast-forward to August 2017, and we have “The Sin and the Sentence”, the first single from the Floridians’ as-of-yet untitled eighth album. Being the rebellious, mischievous bunch that they are, they decided to put it out on a Tuesday instead of, you know, Friday, the widely designated day of the week to launch new music. So punk rock.

As with pretty much every Trivium release, you can’t compare this new sound to any one record of theirs. While the “The Sin and the Sentence” maintains the emphasis on Heafy’s (increasingly powerful) clean vocals, the music is significantly heavier this time around. New drummer Alex Bent brings an urgent intensity to the track, complete with rapid-fire bursts of double bass and even a few traditional blast beats tossed in for good measure. His relentless athletics in the song’s epic twin-guitar intro give it a bit of an Arch Enemy flavor.

The catchy, groovy chorus finds Heafy in a duet with himself, as he overlaps clean and harsh vocals in a snappy call-and-response. To be honest, this memorable section helps distract from some of the track’s shortcomings; for starters, from a guitar standpoint, many of the musical ideas presented here are blatantly derivative. The pedal tone riff at 3:05 is not only boring but CERTAINLY recycled, as is the similarly generic riff at 5:25 (also, during the latter, why does he feel the need to randomly yell “FUCK!” for no reason?)

The harmonized neo-classical lead riff at 3:37 is also suspect, and adds to my growing suspicion based on recent albums that the band are simply OUT of new solo ideas. Lastly, I gotta take issue with that dumb three-chord palm-muted progression that kicks off the first verse; it makes me feel like I’m listening to a Pop-Punk band.

All things considered, however, “The Sin and the Sentence” is a step in the right direction for the band. I don’t want to speak too soon, but on my first handful of listens, I’d consider this the best Trivium song since 2011. It brings melody and aggression in equal doses, it’s a bit more indulgent and technical, and it re-introduces some exciting elements to the Trivium sound, most notably Alex Bent’s blast beats and some good ol’ Metalcore riffing (if a bit unoriginal). Looking forward to hearing more from Trivium in the coming months!

Dark Tranquillity’s “Atoma”: Three Singles Deep

DT season approaching!

Swedish Melodeath legends Dark Tranquillity are one of the most consistent bands in Metal history. Not only did they kick start their career by leading one of the genre’s most influential movements, but they’ve churned out album after fucking album of world-class Extreme Metal for over two decades without so much as a slight misstep. Their forthcoming LP Atoma (out November 4th on Century Media) will be their eleventh full length, and they’re going into it with a ten-album winning streak.

One of my personal Mount Rushmore bands, DT are completely singular in the world of Melodic Death Metal. Their unique take on the genre is to be more somber than seething, more unassuming than technical, to sprinkle in keyboards and clean vocals without ever veering in a commercial direction. Vocalist Mikael Stanne’s signature snarl is somehow inviting and menacing at the same time.

I can’t say enough about how much I love these guys. But on the flip side, their sound hasn’t fluctuated significantly, and there’s only so many ways you can describe how head over heels you are for Welch’s fruit snacks. After a while, all you know is that you’ve loved them since you could remember, that life is always better when they’re around, and that they’ve never let you down. But with Atoma ten days away (!), I wanted to check in and see how these three pre-release singles are stacking up.

“Atoma”

 The first single I heard, the title cut is far and away the best of the three. The keyboard-centric intro bears a slightly resemblance to “Endtime Hearts”, a career highlight off their last record Construct, so this track was immediately in my good graces. Mikael Stanne’s clean vocals – something bands like Killswitch Engage credit him for popularizing to this day – are some of the most powerful he has ever delivered. His deep baritone has a bit more force behind it, stripping back some of the croonage (definitely not a word) that he has dabbled in. Though the lyrical themes aren’t transparent here, the chorus has a certain triumphant and motivational feel to it as he growls , “hold your head up high”. I’d also like to point out that DT are a band that thrive on subtlety – notice those quietly-mixed harmonized guitars in the chorus that boost the keyboards and create an incredibly FULL sound.

“Forward Momentum”

 “Forward Momentum” trades off between bleakness and aggression. The gloomy keys in the chorus are desolate and We Are the Void -esque, but elsewhere the guitars roar with chugging riffs. For Melodeath fans, that combination of chords in the post-chorus should be quite familiar (see: every Trivium song ever), so this track offers up no surprises. It’s run-of-the-mill DT, although “run-of-the-mill” generally bears a positive connotation for these guys.

“The Pitiless”

 A big factor in Dark Tranquillity’s singularity is that Mikael Stanne’s vocals are so easily deciphered through his raspy screams. It makes DT a bit more lyrically centered than other bands of their ilk, and “The Pitiless” is a prime example. I’m definitely curious as to what Stanne is specifically referring to in the chorus when he delivers the lines: “Alone in silence/Yes I am frightened and so are you/against pitiless indifference/we stand alone”. But either way, the sentiment of taking action in the face of apathy is heard loud and clear.  This song is also the most aggressive of the three singles. Not necessarily known for their riffing, that harmonized hammer-on section at 0:37 is the catchiest guitar part these guys have played in some time.

Essentially, these three tracks sound like a fusion of the last two Dark Tranquillity albums (2013’s Construct and 2010’s We Are the Void). They find the gents going about business as usual, and indulging in absolutely zero experimentation. That’s totally fine for three tracks, but I’m hoping for a curveball or two come November 4th.

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.