Thursday, July 20, 2017

album review: 'mura masa' by mura masa

Okay, I'm going to walk you all through the strange series of events that led me to wanting to cover this record. As many of you know I'm a big fan of Shura, whose debut album last year Nothing's Real was one of my favourite records of 2016, easily, and when I saw she was going to be featured on an upcoming project from a British DJ named Mura Masa, I was really curious and excited on what she would bring to the table. It's the stage name for Alex Crossan, who may have started off in punk pivoted towards the sleeker, trap and tropical house-leaning sounds that have been popular recently, and once he got signed to a major label he started pulling together a murder's row of guests that included Charli XCX, A$AP Rocky, and even Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz... but Shura's collaboration was nowhere to be seen.

And I have to admit, I found this pretty frustrating, as I'm not normally the type to seek out this style of music if I don't see strong names on the tracklist - I mean, you kept a song with Desiigner, who I'm fairly certain will never have a stable career in the near future, and you pitched the Shura song after filming a video for it and everything? Maybe it was because that single was released back in October of 2015 in order to drive buzz, but still, it struck me as a misspent opportunity. But hey, it was on my schedule this long and it got to the top, and the reviews have been decent, so what did we get from this self-titled record?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

video review: 'EVOLVE' by imagine dragons

And now I'm finally caught up on all of my promotion posts. WHEW, that took way too long.

Next up, something a bit more current, so stay tuned!

album review: 'evolve' by imagine dragons

Here's the question you never want to ask yourself after confronting a mediocre run for a band: were they ever that good to begin with? It's a terrible thing to ask, because you're now questioning old opinions and old reviews placed in hindsight where history can definitely color how you see them and the art now? Maybe not entirely - it's not like I can't revisit the first album by The Strokes knowing the downward slide they were going to face - but you get this faint pang of regret and a sense of that there could have been so much more...

And no band has ever epitomized that for me in the mainstream more than Imagine Dragons. Let me make this clear, while their debut Night Visions had issues, the great songs on that album were amazingly good, and it reflected a sound and direction for a modern rock band that had potential, blending in elements of folk with some indie rock smolder and electronic rock punch, it was enough for me to bypass how the production could feel a little monochromatic and the lyrics could feel a tad flimsy or overwrought - but hey, it fit, right, given Dan Reynolds as a frontman? Well, fast forward to 2015 and Smoke + Mirrors, a record that reflected nothing more than a band cycling through ideas and trying to ram them through their established framework. Many people - including myself - called it a sophomore slump, and considering how badly it did on the charts, with no real sustainable crossover single, I thought Imagine Dragons may have been out for the count.

And yet going into Evolve it seems like Imagine Dragons has actually regained some momentum, pushing their frustrating producer Alex da Kid to the sidelines for the majority of the project and instead churning out a tight set of eleven tracks. And while I had no real expectations that this would be great - critics if anything have been even harder on this project than Smoke + Mirrors - you all still wanted me to cover it, so what came from Evolve?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 29, 2017 (VIDEO)

And this episode took WAY too long to finish... but overall pretty good, I think.

Okay, next review on the way, stay tuned!

video review: 'what now' by sylvan esso

I've got no idea why I keep falling behind on posting these updates, but yeah, good album, definitely check it out!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 29, 2017

Okay, I'll be very honest: I was not expecting this week to be as chaotic as it was. I expected that Kesha would cross over and we'd maybe get a few tracks from 21 Savage and maybe one or two from Jay-Z - after all, it's not really a radio-friendly record, I didn't see a lot of crossover potential. And boy, was I wrong, because nine out of the ten songs from 4:44 hit the Hot 100 - along with the expected Kesha and 21 Savage, along with singles from Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato and the point is that this week turned out way busier than I expected. I clearly underestimated the still-remaining star power from Jay, because it took out a swathe of the charts - and in the middle of the summer, it'll be fascinating to see what even has a chance of recovering.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

album review: 'what now' by sylvan esso

So here's a problem that pretty much only music nerds and music critics have that I'm fairly certain I've brought up before: we simply hear so much that it becomes a lot harder to surprise us with sounds or tones that are presumed to be 'on the cutting edge'. Oh, it can happen with an interesting melodic turn of phrase or lyrics that twist in a fascinating direction or an artist presenting themselves in a starkly different way, but at the end of the day, I have to admit there's a part of my mind that wants to immediately place new records in a context with the sounds of the time. And yes, I know that's not entirely healthy - go into everything fresh, that whole thing - but context is important, and if I feel I don't acknowledge at least some of it, I'm not doing my job.

So take Sylvan Esso - when I first heard their self-titled record, their sound immediately fell into place in my mind: imagine a group who smoothed over the edges of Purity Ring with gentler folk tendencies, and an odd sense of heartfelt but wry humor that could draw you towards the huskier tones rather than shock with visceral detail. By necessity that made them a subtler group, and yet one that I was certain was never to get the same buzz - the hooks had a slower burn, the writing required a little more to unpack, and while I wasn't crazy about that debut, I definitely heard its appeal - they made complete sense in the indie pop scene of 2014, at least for me.

And to my mild surprise, that record actually turned out to be a modest hit, prompting a switch in label and the band to release a follow-up this year that finally managed to get to the top of my schedule. Apparently, they were going to taking more of a satirical approach to bigger sounds in modern pop this time around - which made sense to me, given their sense of humor and style of delivery - so I did want to cover this, so what did we find on What Now?

movie review: 'spider-man: homecoming' (VIDEO)

Well, about damn time I got to this - and it was pretty damn good. Not really great - and I'm still working on trying to get the vlog microphone tuned, it's going to be a work in progress, folks - but it was a cute little gimmick to start things off.

But that's not all you're getting tonight... stay tuned!

video review: 'the click' by ajr

So I may have gotten a tad bellicose and profane in this review - hey, when you're in hell, you do as the demons do, I guess.

In the mean time, I've got a few other things coming up tonight that are much better...

Monday, July 17, 2017

album review: 'the click' by AJR

A friendly warning: this review will not be safe for work. There will be plentiful profanity in descriptive and disgusting varieties. I'm not quite certain what the qualifiers for any bots to flag a video like this as age-gated, but this review will certainly test them. If you have an issue with such a bellicose manner, I highly recommend you click away now, because the next several paragraphs of this script will surely aggravate you. I also recommend if you're a fan of this band, unless you're into a sort of masochism that involves sounding, you might want to clear out too - to put it mildly, you're not going to like what I'll have to say.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

video review: 'big fish theory' by vince staples

Well, this was a fascinating listen... not sure how well this review will be received, but eh, it happens.

Next up... actually, no idea, so we'll see. Stay tuned!

album review: 'big fish theory' by vince staples

I have a hard time getting a grip on what Vince Staples is doing. 

And I don't think I'm the only one here. Like most people I started getting into him through his 2014 EP Hell Can Wait and its relentless, hard-hitting darkness, tinged with a frank gallows humor where the edge was only intensified by how close it hit to home for him. The language was blunt, the production was stripped down and lean, and by the time he released his viciously sharp double album debut Summertime 06, I was all set to get on-board... and yet unlike so many critics, I wasn't quite taken in. Maybe I was expecting the curt lyricism to build to a little more or show a little more refinement, maybe the production was in fact too stripped down to stick with me, maybe it was that Vince Staples delivered an hour-long double album for his debut that probably should have been trimmed back in order to add a little more density... look, I remember liking the record a fair bit, but I didn't love it.

And yet from there, I got the impression Vince wasn't one to stick with that sound, and when I heard his follow-up this year Big Fish Theory was attracting controversy for pivoting more towards hip-house and Detroit techno... well, there was a part of me that wasn't surprised, especially given that style would probably compliment the blunt nihilistic themes of his lyricism fairly well. Hell, I had heard how well he had worked opposite Gorillaz earlier this year, and this sound on this record was probably aiming to be more ragged and experimental, especially for hip-hop. So okay, what did we hook on Big Fish Theory?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

video review: 'something to tell you' by haim

Believe me, folks, I wanted to like this as much as anyone. Not precisely bad, but I'm going to forget this exists in a week, I'd put money on it.

Now to cover something I should have covered a few weeks ago... stay tuned!

album review: 'something to tell you' by haim

I'll be the first to admit I was really hard on HAIM the first time I covered them. Again, I can make the excuse that I was very early in my reviewing career on YouTube, and that I probably could have afforded to be a little more deft in my commentary - but I'm also not going to deny that for all of the hype thrown behind this group, I've consistently been underwhelmed by the actual music and songwriting on display.

Which of course is awkward for me to say because on some level, HAIM is the modern mainstream music critic's dream project to review: independent and underground enough to earn hipster points, but not too weird or unconventional to lose the mainstream public - hell they're friends of Taylor Swift, which is an easy namedrop for clicks! They're indebted to folk and indie acts of the past but with a very modern style of songwriting that would win over the poptimist. They had an image that seemed a little more weighty than your average girl group, they all played their own instruments, they were quirky, it's very easy to see why a lot of critics were taken in... and I wasn't one of them. And I'm not saying that to brag, I wish I could have found more to like in the songwriting behind HAIM to really appreciate and get onboard the bandwagon, but outside of specific songs like 'The Wire' - which is awesome and made my year-end lists of the best songs of 2013 - I was just underwhelmed and a little unsettled by some of the implications in that writing.

But again, your average music critic's dream band, so with all the acclaim you'd expect them to have a follow-up ready fairly quickly... and now it's four years later. I'll give them points for two years of touring, but apparently initial studio sessions were unfruitful and it took a lot longer for the band to pull things together - which struck me as odd, given that I never found their arrangements or writing to be incredibly complex or challenging to assemble. But hey, there's an art in blending styles and nailing the formula well, so now that we finally have Something To Tell You, what did we get?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 22, 2017 (VIDEO)

My lord, this was a rough week to get through. Not exactly terrible, but mediocrity is almost worse on some level.

Eh, whatever, time for something more recent, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 22, 2017

Okay, maybe I'm just not as in-tune with what will cross onto the Hot 100 as I thought as I was, especially when it comes to album tracks. I knew that Jay-Z's 4:44 would take the wide release to land on the Hot 100, but I did think that there'd be at least a few album tracks from Calvin Harris' last release that'd have a chance, or maybe a bit of traction for Kesha's big comeback single 'Praying'... but while of course it landed on the Canadian charts, thanks to not getting a full tracking week it just missed the Hot 100, and what we got instead... well, it's interesting, I'll say that.

Monday, July 10, 2017

video review: 'whiteout conditions' by the new pornographers

And there's the last one - whew, about damn time I got to this, and it was mostly worth the wait!

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN and something more recent, so enjoy!

video review: 'stoney' by post malone (4th year anniversary!)

Well, I should have seen this coming... but really, this was a slog and honestly a bit of a letdown when it comes to anniversary episodes. I was hoping for more from you guys, especially if you're just going to troll with a bad record from one of the worst years in modern pop culture.

But we're STILL not done here...

video review: '4:44' by jay-z

Okay, LOTS of updates to keep everyone in the loop, so let's start with a surprisingly great record. Yeah, short, effective, and it does exactly what Jay needed to do. Check it out!

But that's not all...

album review: 'whiteout conditions' by the new pornographers

So I've talked a little about supergroups before, the music fan's dream collaborations that more often than not never quite live up to expectations... but of course, it's not always like that, and considering how much I tend to champion Canadian music, it's a damn tragedy it has taken me so long to get to this group.

So, The New Pornographers. Born out the Vancouver indie rock scene around the turn of the millennium, many of the members had prominent roles in their own groups before coming together for this, and looking back now it's almost a little astounding how well it turned out. Carl Newman was widely held as the primary songwriter and band 'leader', but when you surround him with acts that would become songwriting powerhouses in their own right like Neko Case and Dan Bejar of Destroyer and a host of other 90s Canadian indie veterans, the lineup was almost too good to fail.

And sure enough, for the first half of the 2000s The New Pornographers made some of the catchiest and most infectious power pop and indie rock you'd hear, getting a ton of well-deserved critical acclaim. Yes, things did slip with Challengers and Together, but they were able to yank things back in line with Brill Bruisers in 2014, a record I really wish I could have covered three years ago, cranking up the synthesizer lines and creating a project that didn't quite feel as backwards looking or indulgent as earlier record could occasionally feel. And while I was excited to hear they were going to push further down that new wave path on Whiteout Conditions, I'm not going to deny I was concerned to hear that Dan Bejar didn't contribute to it. Apparently he's been hard at work on the next Destroyer project, but in terms of songwriting - and this is no disrespect to Newman - but Bejar is in a class of his own, and I was concerned what his absence could mean for the new album. But hey, it was bound to be energetic and fun, right, even if I am months late to the punch, so what did we get with Whiteout Conditions?