Monday, January 15, 2018

video review: 'camila' by camila cabello

Well, this was inconsistent... and disappointing. But really, I'm not all that surprised...

Beyond that, next up is Billboard BREAKDOWN, Anderson East, and hopefully Paddington 2 soon, so stay tuned!

album review: 'camila' by camila cabello

So there's an unspoken and kind of uncomfortable truth about a lot of pop music: while it helps to have talent, if you're in the right place at the right time with the right people, it doesn't matter if you do or not, you're going to find success. Hell, on average you'll probably get even more famous than folks who have talent but are lacking in either the place, timing, or people department - and thus on that note, Camila Cabello.

Okay, that's really mean, I admit it - but there's also always been some truth to it and not just about her - hell, more than I think a lot of people want to admit. I remember both of my Fifth Harmony reviews when Camila was with the group and she was always the weakest link, both as a singer and an interesting pop personality, and when she left I thought Fifth Harmony got better on their self-titled release - and yeah, I realize I'm pretty much the only one who thought that, but I stand by it. And when Camila Cabello started releasing singles and collaborations, I was fully expecting her to flame out like other girl group acts going solo - I'm not too young to forget Nicole Scherzinger and what happened to the Pussycat Dolls. 

But then 'Havana' happened - and I remember what I said when I reviewed the song on Billboard BREAKDOWN, it was the first time I actually had a hope that Camila could release something worthwhile... but when you have nine cowriters including Pharrell, you can almost hear the pop machinery muscling this into becoming a hit - as much as people don't want to admit it, the system can still do that. And thus it was only a matter of time before we got a new album - short enough that it probably didn't cost too much, even though it's not like Syco spends money on producers anyway, but also released in mid-January when there's literally no competition and if it flops they could cut their losses. Now if you can't tell, I was not expecting to like this, especially coming with the forgettable follow-up single 'Never Be The Same' - but hey, 'Havana' was a good surprise, this could be too, right?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

the top ten best hit songs of 1967 (VIDEO)

Ooh wow, this was a ton of work (and I'm a little annoyed so many of the transitions fucked up, GAH), but I'm still pretty proud of it all the same.

Okay, next up, back to something from this year - stay tuned!

the top ten best hit songs of 1967

So when I added the 'top ten' option on Patreon, I was expecting that certain years would attract more attention than others - presumably more recent, if only to flesh out other years in this decade that I've missed, or maybe years that have achieved fame or notoriety for being the best and worst in music history. And thus, I shouldn't be that surprised that a Patron chose this year of all things - after all, from about 1964 to 1969 has been considered by many music historians as a glorious age for popular music, the founding of psychedelic pop and rock, the expansion and growth of soul, the genesis of garage rock and proto-punk, and even birthing tones that would inspire funk, and 1967 was smack in the middle of it all...

And this is where I need to step in and provide some context, because for as much as all of that is true about the era, in looking at what was popular the sheen of baby boomer nostalgia begins to fade, because while 1967 was a pretty damn great year for the Hot 100 - I could easily make a top 30 of this list and still make painful cuts, I wouldn't quite qualify it as one of the all-time best - close, but not all the way there, especially if you're making a comparison to either '66 or '68. Yes, watching psychedelic rock take shape is pretty awesome and there are loads of classics here, and I was actually a little stunned how much terrific soul, jazz, and very early funk managed to slip onto the charts. But this was also the 1960s and the tropes that plagued that era - especially in its early years - are still visible. Yes, we got The Beatles and the summer of love... and all the bands jacking their sound two years late, or dumbing it down into flaccid hippie pablum. Yes, black music was producing terrific records... and white artists were nakedly ripping them off for crossover success. And of course we got the sorts of inane novelty crap and tepid pop and doo-wop leftovers that could flesh out a list of mediocre to outright awful tracks - an era where 'parody' songs or blatant throwbacks could still chart as artists fought against the rapidly changing times. Thankfully, after going through all one hundred songs that charted that year, we're focusing on the positive this time... and are subsequently facing a very new challenge. See, rock historians have been over the 1960s time and time again to canonize so many acts that if my choices buck the popular consensus - and spoilers, some of them will - or if certain songs are left off the list, there'll be folks who'll cry foul that certain 'legendary' songs are not represented. And let me make this clear: I'm not speaking for the institution of rock history, partially because I'm decades removed from ever living that history - this was music made when my parents were kids - but also because as that rock history has proven increasingly selective over the years, maybe a fresh set of eyes can recontextualize this a bit. So, as always the song has to debut on the Hot 100 in 1967, and let's get started with...

Thursday, January 11, 2018

video review: 'TRIDENT WOLF ECLIPSE' by watain

Well, I'm not going to deny this black metal is a little outside my comfort zone... but hey, it actually wound up closer to something I'd like more than I expected. Interesting review, to be sure.

Next up... I'm not sure, we'll see!

album review: 'trident wolf eclipse' by watain

So when I've talked about black metal, I haven't really talked much about record labels - and that's mostly because as a frequently controversial metal subgenre that has remained almost entirely underground, most major labels and distributors don't touch it, and that suits groups just fine. Now on the one hand that can make finding certain black metal records a real pain in the ass, because distribution can be limited and scarce... but on the flip side, if you hear that a black metal group signed to a major label or distributor, more often than not you could give odds that the group will have diluted or diversified their sound.

Now granted, when it came to Swedish black metal act Watain in 2013, some of that you could have predicted already. While their early records did showcase some impressive shredding and a theatrical brand of theistic Satanism - which of course led to the sort of elaborate live show that was intensely controversial - I personally never found them all that challenging or abrasive. The production was always pretty clean, the vocals were never too guttural, and the song structures felt more accessible. And by the time they signed with Century and put out The Wild Hunt, openly dabbling in tones that were more progressive or doom-inspired with even clean vocals, they were primed for that crossover and had the sales to prove it, even the atmosphere, intensity, and writing had taken a bit of a dip along the way... and then close friend of the band and occult rock artist Selim Lemouchi committed suicide. It was a moment that shook the band deeply and drove them back to expanding on the desperate dark empowerment themes that characterized their full-length debut in 2000, a truly nasty little album that might have textures that'll satisfy black metal purists, but really doesn't showcase the refined compositional strengths that would start to come later on Casus Luciferi. So if they were going back to that tone and style as seasoned veterans, this could make for a pretty damn potent listen, right?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

video review: 'ephorize' by cupcakKe

So I feel like I may have surprised some people with this.

Good. Surprises are fun. And on that topic, coming up next... well, it's been too long for a genre like this. Stay tuned!

album review: 'ephorize' by cupcakKe

I should have been a lot more on the ball with CupcakKe.

And I know for a fact that me making that statement will surprise or even confuse some of you, especially if you have only a passing familiarity with this Chicago MC. If you only know her from her image or reputation for making hyper-sexual, confrontational bangers in the vein of a Lil Kim or Missy Elliott or early Nicki Minaj, you might have been inclined to dismiss her as a viral sensation but not having much beyond that. And thus when I started getting requests to cover her third full-length record Ephorize early this year, I was inclined to blow it off... but I didn't have much else on my schedule so I figured I might as well check out her first two records.

And I'm so glad I did, because while she does have some songs that fit this image, CupcakKe is one of the most impressive new MCs I've heard in some time, no question. A ton of charisma and real stage presence, a diverse set of colourful flows that rhyme and connect way more consistently than so many of her male counterparts, and while she might make those provocative sexual songs, she was just as capable of bringing explosive bangers and starkly emotional and vulnerable tracks with real intimate intensity and intellect. Coupled with a fervent desire to remain independent and an uncanny knack for accessible but hard-hitting production, she showed a ton of real potential that I really appreciated. Now I wouldn't quite say I was entirely won over by either Audacious or Queen Elizabitch - both very good projects, for sure, but the former had a few sung hooks that are definitely not CupcakKe's strong suit, and the latter indulged in more trap-leaning production that didn't always flatter her, a little too desaturated and narrowly focused. But all the buzz was suggesting that Ephorize manage to strike the right balance and I wasn't going to miss out this time, so what did we get here?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 13, 2018 (VIDEO)

And here we go... not a great week, but I think it was somewhat interesting overall? Eh, you never know.

Next up... well, the schedule is pretty open-ended, so you never know. Stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 13, 2018

So remember when I said last week I was expecting a slowdown... well, thanks to three factors I'd argue I was probably wrong in that department, because if you're looking a certain shifts in the charts, you might conclude it was a pretty busy. Now that's not entirely the case - indeed, look into the details and you'll see a pretty average or even slower week - but I would say it is more transitory, as the holidays rotate out for whatever's coming.


Well, this was fun. Not sure how many of you are going to be into it, but I'm happy I got to cover it regardless, there's definitely an audience that'd love to hear more of this.

And next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN - stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

album review: 'all posers must die' by sex master

I feel like I should be giving you all some context for this review - and while there's a part of me that wants to just say 'context is for posers' and move on, I at least have to take you back to last Saturday night, January 6, 2018. It's late, it's absolutely freezing outside, but after a long afternoon and editing, I decide to head out to one of my favourite metal bars, where lo and behold there's a tape release party for the newest project from the local duo Sex Master, released by Craniophagus Parasiticus Records.

Now a few disclaimers here: I know both Matt Black and Struan Robertson, the latter who you might recognize as the drummer from Canadian metal group AMMO - they're cool guys, and while I'd say we're more acquaintances than friends, I see them on a regular basis. I'm also acutely aware that Sex Master is a bit of a tough group to categorize: local cult metal icons and definitely talented enough to earn the acclaim they've received, but for those outside of that cult I can see some finding this a tad ridiculous, or perhaps their appeal best understood in a live setting - fitting because this new project was recorded live. And while both statements are probably true, I also need to stress that I'm still bringing my critical due diligence to bear here - after all, I wouldn't want to disparage the awesome might Sex Master by going easy on them or something. So, with all of that established, what did we get on All Posers Must Die?

Monday, January 8, 2018

video review: 'POST-' by jeff rosenstock

And here's the first review of 2018! Looks to be interesting going forward, especially as we've got some more metal waiting in the wings as I polish up that top ten list... but in the mean time, Billboard BREAKDOWN on the way too, so stay tuned!

album review: 'POST-' by jeff rosenstock

So I'm actually a little surprised I didn't get as much backlash as I was expecting for my more political picks on my year-end lists - maybe you're all just used to my point-of-view by now, maybe the records' quality overran the content, or maybe I just haven't pissed off the right set of people yet. But for those of you who are bothered by the politics coming up at all, be you on the left or right... well, look, I'm not sure what to tell you, I think we were all hoping this conversation would have quieted down by now and yet with every passing day it seems to get even louder. And given how certain tax policies are now directly targeting artists in an era of greater economic inequality than ever, you can't expect them to shut up.

Granted, I'm not sure you could shut up a punk rock lifer such as Jeff Rosenstock even if you tried. When WORRY. became a critical darling in 2016 just days before the election, even in the face of a possible Democratic victory you could still hear the pronounced anxiety, how even if they won, gentrification and police brutality and social media obsession and the increased numbness of a weary millennial population wasn't going away, especially in the face of crippling self-awareness of their culpability and flaws. It was a record approaching burnout with the half-drunk determination to keep staggering forward because it couldn't get that bad... and then the election happened. And while to some extent that does lock WORRY. into a very specific context pre-election, it also threw a wide enough net and captured the cultural mood so effectively that did stick around, so it doesn't fade into immediate irrelevance like Common Black America Again did. And really, given how closely attuned Rosenstock's writing felt to his audience, I knew it was only a matter of time before he'd contextualize the insanity of the past year and come back all the stronger. It'd be political, it'd be empathetic, it'd give Rosenstock the space to push his blend of power pop, hardcore punk and even traces of ska into even more places - in short, it's the record I think a lot of people needed to start 2018. And thus, what did we get with POST-?

Saturday, January 6, 2018

trailing edge - episode 001 - 2017 (VIDEO)

Well, this was a TON of work... and overall, pretty damn fun to assemble too, generally happy with how it turned out. Enjoy!

the top 25 best albums of 2017 (VIDEO)

Well, nearly forgot about this one... but not to worry, it's still here. Enjoy!

Next up, the debut of The Trailing Edge - stay tuned!

the top 25 best albums of 2017

Of all the years I've put together year-end lists for albums, this might be the hardest it's been - and believe it or not, it's for the best possible reason: I covered an abundance of incredible music in 2017, arguably more than I ever have before! Even though I didn't give out any perfect scores, this year showed multiple genres giving us the goods, from a revitalized rock scene to several country gems to underground hip-hop making a major resurgence to pop putting forward its best showing in years - and that's not even getting to the genre-defying oddities that utterly blew my mind!

But what this also meant were cuts... in a year where I could put together a top 50 and still feel like I'm leaving stuff off, this was particularly brutal. Once again, I was very tempted to expand this list, but again, I'm highlighting the best of the best, and that means while these could have made it in a weaker year, for 2017 they didn't cut it. I won't deny that hip-hop got hit hard in this, as I really wanted to include records from Quelle Chris, Jay-Z, milo, Armand Hammer, Tyler the Creator, Rapsody, Yelawolf, and yes, Kendrick Lamar on this list and I can't. And queue the outrage by everyone that DAMN. is not making this list, but considering there are  five hip-hop records that beat him out to get here, there isn't room for complaining. And I don't want to hear anything from the indie set either than Father John Misty, Kirin J. Callinan, Spoon, The xx, St. Vincent, and Alvvays missed the cut too - all great records, to be sure, but not quite good or consistent enough. Honestly, the most painful cuts for me came in rock - where Creeper, Chelsea Wolfe, and Ayreon all missed it - and especially country, where Natalie Hemby, Angaleena Presley, Dori Freeman and Chris Stapleton all didn't make it - again, great albums, but limited slots. Finally, we have three records that would have sparked controversy had they landed on the list so there is a part of me they just missed the cut: Jhene Aiko, Brand New, and Niall Horan - although there is another part of me that would love to see everyone's expression if Niall made my year end list and Kendrick didn't.

But again, those are my Honourable Mentions... and now onto the list proper.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

patreon announcement: 2018

Okay, this is a bit of a calculated risk, but I have some high hopes for where this'll go - stay tuned!

the top 50 songs of 2017 (VIDEO)

And there we go. Massive videos, really proud with how they turned out - enjoy!

the top 50 best songs of 2017

I said on Twitter a few months ago that of all of my year-end lists, this one is always the most complicated - because it's by far the most personal. With the constraint of a list of hits or talking about records in aggregate, you've manufactured some distance - but if you're just going through the list of the songs that spoke the most to you regardless of whether they were a single or not, there's no separation or barrier.

And when you add to the fact that 2017 was a tumultuous year - not just for me but for most of the world, although I did have my own share of trying times - it's a little unnerving to go through the cutting process and realize how dark it truly got. There isn't much escapism in this top 50, and what escapism does show up is very much colored by consequences waiting in the wings. I'm not saying it's downbeat - in comparison to the melancholy that colored a lot of last year, there are more pronounced moments of joy and triumph - but it is by far the most unsettled, pulling the least punches and ultimately producing a psychological profile of my year in 2017 I'm still not quite sure what to do with. But hey, all of these came from albums I covered this year, and I wouldn't have spent a month pruning this list to its form now if I didn't have faith in it - even though I can guarantee there'll be a fair few conspicuous entries that aren't here if you're comparing to other critical lists. So let's get this started...