January 2018 Album Round Up!

Happy Super Bowl Sunday everyone! One of my favorite days of the entire year…

Not because of the game itself, mind you – but because Football finally fucking ends.

I didn’t like the sport when I was eight years old and refusing to drink the peewee football Kool-Aid, and I like it even less now as a grown man who has literally lost touch with friends because I won’t play fantasy football. So once this game comes and goes, it’ll be nice to not have to hear about Tom Brady for the next six months. That being said, I AM looking forward to JT’s halftime performance!

In other news, I just hit 500 subscribers on my YouTube channel which I’m incredibly psyched about! If you’re one of those 500 people, thank you so much! It means the world to me to have your support. And wait ‘til you see what I have in store for the channel this year! I have never been more inspired or motivated.

Music-wise, I’d say 2018 is off to a pretty solid start. Hip-Hop seems to be lagging behind a bit (I’m looking at YOU, Migos), but we’ve still got 11 months for it to catch up. And I’m sure it will. Looking at my ever-expanding “2018 Album Releases” spreadsheet on my desktop, I see zero reason why this year can’t be something special.

Ok, rant over. Here’s everything I’ve been listening to since my New Year’s hangover finally subsided:

Camila – Camila Cabello

 Since she turned Fifth Harmony into Fourth Harmony in 2016 by exiting the group to pursue her solo career, Camila Cabello has been on a seemingly unstoppable trajectory to superstardom. And her chart-topping debut not only confirms her commercial might, but also hints at some genuine artistic potential. The acoustic-driven “Real Friends” is a thoughtful meditation on fame and the superficial relationships that spring from it. By contrast, “In the Dark” explores the dynamics of celebrity romance, and how public figures often struggle to open up in their private lives. Then there’s the rousing dancehall number “She Loves Control”, which brings with it a production assist from Skrillex. And of course, singles “Havana” and “Never Be the Same” are already bonafide hits, and my prediction is that at least two more smashes from this track list will followI was pleasantly surprised by this LP and was really glad I gave it a chance. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Catharsis – Machine Head

 Likely to be one of the most heavily debated Metal records of the entire year, Machine Head’s divisive ninth record is definitely messy. Listening to Catharsis, you’ll get a barrage of questionable lyrics, more than your fair share of guitar riffs that fall flat, and you’ll endure some head-scratching stylistic “adventures”. But Catharsis also reminded me of one of the most important principles I live by as a music fan: NEVER make a snap judgment on anything. ‘Cause once I lived with this album for a few days, I came to find that there was a lot to enjoy on it too, from the anthemic title track to the menacing “Heavy Lies the Crown” to the succinct but powerful “Kaleidoscope”. And I decided that – by a thin margin, mind you – the positives outweigh the negatives with this one. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Dark Horse – Devin Dawson

If I had to pick an album of the month, here it is. Country artist Devin Dawson’s debut release immediately impresses with in its delicate balance of Country and Pop on songs like “I Can’t Trust Myself” and the Hot 100 hit “All On Me”. But Dawson also works in rock music (“Prison”), heartland sounds (“Placebo”), and Alternative singer-songwriter-isms (“Symptoms”) into these twang-y arrangements. My favorite thing about the LP, however, is Dawson’s ability to put together super relatable concept-driven lyrics: see his unique break-up song angle on “Secondhand Hurt”, his colorful depiction of a bitter ex on “War Paint”, or the passionate– if socially apathetic – lover who narrates “I Don’t Care Who Sees”. Definitely an artist to watch! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Mania – Fall Out Boy

 Despite the rest of the world leading me to believe this would be the worst thing I would ever hear, Fall Out Boy’s polarizing seventh LP really isn’t that bad. Sure, the opening track and lead single “Young and Menace” is a dud – a clunky, ill-advised EDM attempt. And yes, “Sunshine Riptide” could’ve done without that forced collaboration with Nigerian Reggae artist Burna Boy. But amongst these underwhelming ditties are standouts like “Bishops Knife Trick”, the stadium-ready ballad that closes the album out, as well as the high-energy, ultra-quotable “Last of the Real Ones”, and even the Tropical House experiment that is “Hold Me Tight or Don’t”. So while I wouldn’t necessarily hold this album in high esteem, it’s not an absolute TRAGEDY either – it’s more or less just somewhere in the middle. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Vale – Black Veil Brides

Almost eight years ago now, I checked out Black Veil Brides’ super-hyped debut album We Stitch These Wounds and quickly wrote it off as – at best – Bullet For My Valentine-lite. Then, the band got bigger and bigger and bigger. They notched three straight top ten albums, they were getting booked on major tours supporting the likes of Avenged Sevenfold, Motley Crue, and Slash, and they had apparently changed their sound into something a bit more “Rock-oriented”. So, with album number five here, I decided to give them a chance. And, I regret it. The lyrics – consisting of lines like “shout it from the tallest building”, the usage of the dreaded “fade away” cliche in a handful of songs, and worst of all, a steady stream of filler “woah oh’s” the other 20 percent of the time – are horribly corny. And the music? It’s nothing to write home about. The band oversaturate every song with Avenged Sevenfold-lite guitar harmonies, make every chorus excessively dramatic, and bring only one genuinely heavy riff on the whole LP (“My Vow”). Glad I satisfied my curiosity I suppose, but I’ll pass. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Grimmest Hits – Black Label Society

Yikes. Maybe it’s me….it could very well be me. After all, a lot about my tastes has changed since the last record I dove into from the Zakk Wylde-fronted hard rockers (2010’s Order of the Black). But, man. I found Grimmest Hits to be excruciatingly boring. And ironically, doesn’t BLS have a song called “Bored to Tears” in their back catalogue? Well, they understand how I feel then. The recycled riffs don’t excite me, the vocals often sound uninspired (see verse one of “The Betrayal”), and the muddy mix doesn’t help matters either. Sounds like Zakk and the boys need to tweak their formula the next time around. Or maybe Zakk should just make Book of Shadows III instead. NOT RECOMMENDED

P2 – Dave East

With his acute sense of Golden Age lyricism, strong emphasis on narrative-focused rhymes, and gritty authenticity, Harlem MC Dave East has been one of the up-and-comers in Hip-Hop that I’ve most been rooting for these past couple years. Unfortunately, last year’s PARANOIA: A TRUE STORY project left me slightly disappointed with its lack of focus and a bit of filler. But the good news? P2 is East in tip-top form. Whether he’s paying homage to his inspirations on “What Made Me”, or holding his own in a toe-to-toe bar fest with Lloyd Banks on “Violent”, or telling blood-soaked hood tales in late-90s Nas fashion on “I Found Keisha”, the dude impresses me every step of the way. This is the first great Hip-Hop release I’ve heard in 2018 thus far. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

No Cross No Crown – Corrosion of Conformity

 Take notes, Black Label Society. This is some sludgy, southern-tinged Hard Rock that manages to be dirty, mean, and melodic all at the same time. Reunited with classic-era frontman Pepper Keenan, the band rip through groovy Sabbath-isms like “Luddite” and stomping rockers like “Forgive Me” with remarkable ease. And the moody title cut was also a highlight for me – it added a different flavor to this track list. While it may run a shade too long and not quite match up with early C.o.C. gems like 1994’s Deliverance, No Cross No Crown definitely does the trick. RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Avatar Country – Avatar

Infernal Overdrive – White Wizzard

Ephorize – CupcakKe

Collateral – Phillip Phillips

King Chop 2 – Young Chop

Life of a Dark Rose – Lil’ Skies

Common Ground – Above and Beyond

DON’T LIKE:

Wrong Creatures – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Sign of the Dragonhead – Leaves Eyes

Underworld – Tonight Alive

For My Fans – Fetty Wap

Defy – Of Mice & Men

Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue – Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals

Culture II – Migos

 

 

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

 

Recap: Playing Onstage with Jamey Jasta!

You really have to soak in the big moments in your life as they happen. As human beings facing an inevitable death, our goal is to live a life so fulfilling and so adventurous that eventually, we no longer fear its end. And last night I certainly took a big step. In front of a packed crowd at Irving Plaza in NYC, I got to get up onstage and play with my hero, Jamey Jasta from Hatebreed.

Me and Jasta

When it was announced that Jamey was offering a VIP option to jam onstage with his solo band during the summer tour with Fear Factory and Coal Chamber, it was one of those moments for me where fantasy and self-confidence intersect: fuck it, why NOT me?

After relentlessly nagging him via Gmail with a list of songs that I’d be down to play, Jamey finally came back with: “come up and do fearless! That’ll rock!” Whew, holy shit. This is really happening, isn’t it? Sixteen days and counting. Time to tune my guitar down, figure the song out, and play it ‘til I’m so fucking bored of it that I could play it perfectly while tripping acid and hanging upside down from a tire swing. (The track in question is “The Fearless Must Endure” featuring Zakk Wylde on guest guitar, off of the Jasta solo record).

It’s incredible how fast sixteen days can whizz by you with anything performance-related on the horizon. It was August 11th and I was feeling that beautiful blend of nerves and through-the-roof excitement that any musician has a phD in.

Three hours before Jasta’s set time, I met with Pat, the band’s lead guitarist, and we played through all the parts in an upstairs dressing room inside the venue. Right away, this was very quickly transitioning from nerve-wracking to just plain awesome. Pat (Seymour, also the lead guitarist for CT underground favorites Eyes of the Dead) revealed to me some of the completely badass changes the band makes to the live arrangement (I won’t speak guitar nerd here), and was totally cool with me playing two of the song’s solos. We talked Marty Friedman, Jeff Loomis, Oli Herbert, diminished arpeggios, and every built-up guitar nerd outburst I desperately try to repress while hitting on women. Given the fact that I attend a preppy catholic college where I have yet to see a piece of black clothing, talking guitar with Pat was akin to an immigrant finally interacting with someone from their native country.

Before Jasta’s set, I met Jamey backstage at the meet-and-greet in Fear Factory’s dressing room, and stayed back there with the band through all the setting up, warming up, and casual socializing. Just surreal for me. I simply stayed out of the way and grasped at any sensation I could hold onto and stow away into my brain.

Aside from an anxious paranoia about my guitar being in tune (shout out to the Fear Factory guys for being so understanding), I was beyond psyched as I watched Jasta tear through the first four songs of their set from the side of the stage. Sure enough, fifth song in the set, Jamey calls my name. And my God did the nerves disappear fast. What I remember is a lot of headbanging, flashing stage lights, and exchanging smiles with all the band members as we ripped through the song. As I unplugged my guitar, Jamey told me I would’ve made Zakk Wylde proud – the biggest compliment I have ever received. The fact that it came from my idol didn’t hurt, either.

Ironically though, the most surreal part of the whole experience came the morning after. I convinced my poor mother to come to the show and sit through Jasta’s set in the hopes of maybe capturing my time on stage on photo or video. In my email inbox the next day was a 10-second video in which I’m shredding the second solo, and Jamey points at me and goes, “that’s a badass motherfucker!” Anyone who has ever idolized someone can imagine what it felt like to see that. Watching the footage, I realized I had just created one of those rare memories – the ones that trigger an automatic, instinctive smile every single time your mind ventures back to it.

If you have an opportunity to create an unforgettable memory, don’t even blink. Grab it by the throat, and most importantly, cast aside every negative emotion you have ever felt and be completely present for it. It might be the most important lesson I’ve ever learned. Every corny, played-out “carpe diem”-related cliché applies here, in spades. When you live a moment that triggers that overwhelming rush of gratitude for being alive on planet Earth, it feels like you are hearing every one of those clichés for the first time.

Thank you so much to Jamey Jasta, the rest of the band, and the Fear Factory and Coal Chamber guys for being so accommodating and so cool to me, especially with me invading the cramped dressing room! I hope reading about my experience playing with Jasta inspires someone else to create their own special, lifelong memory.