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

 

St. Patty’s Day Track Round Up

So last Friday was St. Patty’s Day. For me, it was just another Friday – some new music came out, I listened to it, I went to work, I came home, neglected my social obligations, and listened to obscure Metal albums that nobody gives a fuck about. But for some other geniuses out there, local drinking establishments got a nice payday off their desperate need for an “excuse” or an “occasion” to be alcoholics. Look, if you want to get fucked up and escape from your miserable existence for a while, be my guest. But don’t pretend like this is a fucking legitimate holiday. Even if you’re Irish.

Ok, Part 1/1,000,000 of my St. Patty’s Day Rant over. Now, here are my thoughts on some of the biggest tracks released on the most pointless “holiday” of the year.

“At My Best (feat. Hailee Steinfeld)” – Machine Gun Kelly

I swear to God, if I had the cash I’d scramble together a team of the best, Jewiest lawyers I could find and sue Machine Gun Kelly for false advertising. Suffice to say, in this song MGK is not exactly “at his best”. What a fucking bore. Mind-numbingly basic rhyme schemes, dime-a-dozen pasted-in pop hook, hollow self-affirmations….when he delivers cringe-inducing lines like “life is about making mistakes/it’s also about trying to be great” or “this song is for anybody who feels like I did/never the cool kid”….it becomes clear that I would NOT want MGK as my motivational coach. “At My Best” is an incredibly poor excuse for an uplifting, “inspirational song”, something that in the beginning of his career felt genuine but now just feels calculated, robotic, and commodified. NOT RECOMMENDED

“Good Life” – G-Eazy & Kehlani

I gotta say, when placed alongside MGK’s latest lightweight dud, G-Eazy looks like fucking Big Pun here. Joking aside, there’s a bit of surgical rhyming going on here, especially in the second verse when Mr. Eazy sails smoothly through patterns “toast to success/broke and distressed/open my chest/hope for the best”. Even though I’ve always criticized this guy’s music for being bland, generic, and as non-essential as non-essential gets, you HAVE to give him one thing – he comes across incredibly likable. Laid back and easy going, but sincere and hardworking…I’ve never met the guy but this how his personality comes through in his bars. And on this particular track, the stadium-ready hook from Kehlani is totally passable and will probably make for one of the stronger tracks on the Fate of the Furious soundtrack. RECOMMENDED

“Feels Like Summer” – Weezer

Almost a year removed from their excellent return-to-form with the White Album last April, these veteran alt-Rockers are back! And, it’s disappointing. For me, what makes this track a let down is how the crunchy guitars have been replaced by lifeless pop production. It couldn’t get more summer-y than “(Girl We Got a) Good Thing” and “California Kids” anyway, but this track tries to manufacture its way into Warm California Weather Anthem. And it fails. NOT RECOMMENDED

“Battle Symphony” – Linkin Park

So this is single numero dos from Linkin Park’s forthcoming One More Light album. I’ve yet to listen to “Heavy” – all I know is that a lot of people fucking hated it. Well, maybe when I get around to “Heavy” I’ll be the ol’ devil’s advocate, but I’m definitely on the hate bandwagon with “Battle Symphony”. I was shocked when the opening of this track kicked in and there were all these cheesy synths – the song felt like a nightmarish fusion of Imagine Dragons and The Chainsmokers. I suppose the chorus is kind of catchy, but aside from those six notes (Bat-tle Sym-pho-nee-eee), the song is so forgettable. NOT RECOMMENDED

“My Corner (feat. Lil’ Wayne)” – Raekwon

Based on this, I’ll definitely be checking out Raekwon’s new LP The Wild. In the first verse, the Wu-Tang OG makes it perfectly clear that he still murks 80 percent of the new crop of younger MCs. His raspy bars still carry that same weight that they did in the mid-90s, even if the music itself is less vital (Lil Wayne’s appearance is fairly standard, as is the production, which sounds like something Wayne, Rick Ross, Meek Mill, or any G-Unit affiliate would jump on.) Hopefully The Wild will give old school heads something to use those Fire Emojis on, ‘cause I know Drake’s new project sure isn’t! RECOMMENDED

“On the Come Up (feat. Big Sean)” – Mike Will Made-It

Nah. I don’t think Big Sean’s overly hyped-up yelling marries all that well with the operatic vocal sample in the beat. I just always find it funny how Sean delivers his lyrics with this brash, dramatic emphasis as if he’s dropping one mindblowing bar after another. The way his voice inflects on this track, you’d think he’s dropping the verse of the century. But his rhymes are actually REALLY average. I enjoyed some of what he had to say on I Decided, but this one is not doing it for me. NOT RECOMMENDED

“Animal” – Trey Songz

Despite these atrocious lyrics being a laundry list of every corny sexual innuendo on the face of the planet – Trey compares his penis to an anaconda, then a banana, then a boomerang, and then compares the vagina in question to forbidden fruit, a monkey, and SURPRISE, a pussycat – those chromatic guitar chords in the pre-chorus are so fucking sexy. They make everything else tolerable. The raunchy club beat that surrounds them is also hard-hitting and effective. I have to give it to Trey Songz here; depending on America’s tolerance for this kind of filthy sexual content in Pop music (I mean, Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” did squeak through), this could be a hit. RECOMMENDED

 

 

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