Thursday, January 19, 2017

album review: 'oczy mlody' by the flaming lips

So here's a fun question: when did you stop liking The Flaming Lips?

A bit of a bizarre question to start things off, but if you take a look at the output of this band since the 2000s, you slowly start coming to the realization that Wayne Coyne seems to be taking steps to alienate pretty much everybody. Was in the late 90s with Zaireeka, an album designed to be played on four separate sound systems simultaneously? Was it in 2006 with At War With The Mystics, the Grammy award-winning step that tends to be regarded as a dip in quality coming after their stronger work around the turn of the millennium? Was it the 2009 dive into nightmares of Embryonic, or their full-length cover of Pink Floyd's entire The Dark Side Of The Moon the same year? Was it the massive collaboration in 2012 that called up everyone from Nick Cave and Bon Iver to Chris Martin and Kesha? Or was it The Terror, a more subtle brand of nightmare fuel in 2013 that might be one of the most bleak cuts of nihilistic existential horror ever made? Or was it the full, track-for-track cover of Sgt. Pepper's in 2014 that recruited everyone from Foxygen and Dr. Dog to Tegan And Sara and Miley Cyrus? Or was all the collaborative work they did on Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, an album for which you could make the argument is one of the worst records of the decade? Or was it their assortment of public stunts that alternated between incomprehensible and just in horrifically bad taste?

Look, the point is that intentional or not, The Flaming Lips seem to have spent this decade in particular burning whatever good will they have left with an audience that seems to be diminishing, especially when it is coming at the expense of the music. Even as someone who liked the majority of the records I described - with the exception of the Miley collaborations and the covers albums, obviously - it's been hard to work up a lot of excitement about The Flaming Lips, especially for this upcoming record. I've already said my lengthy piece about their continued work with Miley, but buzz was suggesting that those pop influences would be drizzling into their upcoming record Oczy Mlody, which might have been described as 'back-to-basics' but raised every indicator of following the Miley-influenced sound that did not flatter this group at all. Coupled with the loss of long-time drummer Kliph Scurlock, I wasn't sure what to expect with this, especially considering despite how alienating it was, I actually found The Terror pretty compelling in its monolithic darkness. But hey, I've actually stuck with The Flaming Lips for this long, so how is Oczy Mlody?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 28, 2017 (VIDEO)

I have to say, I'm still enjoying those Ed Sheeran songs more than I think anyone expected. Yeah, still pretty damn solid, I'm kind of looking forward to the record...

But on the topic of something I wasn't really looking forward to - well, stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 28, 2017

Well, isn't this a fascinating development... and yes, I did call it last week. Even though the rest of our chart really isn't all that interesting, everyone's eyes are fixed on the big #1 debut, the sort of return that if you had told me that this could have happened even five years ago, I would have called you crazy. And yet to some extent it is historic, because for the first time in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, this is the first time two songs from the same artist ever debuted in the Top 10 at the same time. I knew people had missed Ed Sheeran for some time, but that they missed him this much is a little amazing, at least to me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

video review: 'night people' by you me at six

Man, I got absolutely nothing out of this record. I mean, it's not unlistenable but it has so little distinct personality and what it does have is obnoxious... ugh, not a fan, at all.

But hey, to switch out for entirely too much personality... well, stay tuned!

album review: 'night people' by you me at six I don't really cover a lot of pop punk and pop rock. And hey, that happens - even this early in the year my schedule is filling up - but it also means that outside of the acts that crossed over and made a significant impact in the mainstream, I haven't really kept up with the scene, especially if they broke trying to capitalize on the trend in the mid-2000s and never really caught on. One thing I do know is that it tended to be a more American scene, rooted in disaffected pockets across suburbia or just from California as a whole, and while Canada has a scene that somehow has remained somewhat relevant to this day, if you cross over the U.K... well, beyond an act like Neck Deep that managed to break a few years ago, there's very few with consistent name recognition.

So I'll admit I was surprised to find about You Me At Six, a UK pop punk act from Surrey that released their debut in 2008... in other words, right into an oversaturated scene that guaranteed they'd have a hard time standing out. But having gone through their discography leading up to this review and if I'm going to be brutally honest, that might have been hard regardless. To me their two biggest influences are mid-period Jimmy Eat World and early Fall Out Boy, but less anthemic and heartfelt than the former and less unique and overwritten than the latter... in short, they didn't really stand out, not helped by records that ran long and a lack of immediately distinctive storytelling and wordplay. They got angrier on Sinners Never Sleep - which more often than not translated to a lyrical obnoxiousness that didn't have the charisma, wit, or firepower to back it up - and while shades of maturity began to slip into Cavalier Youth, it only came through on a small selection of songs that only ever rose to being good, not great, with the rest really blurring together. To me, they always seemed like a bit more like a singles act - a few good songs, but you'd never get through an entire album and find it interesting, so I have to admit a lot of trepidation going into Night People, which reportedly was heavier and was also their shortest album to date. Okay, promising, and at the very least I didn't expect this to be bad, so did You Me At Six deliver something I could like?

video review: 'i see you' by the xx

Well, this was a pretty damn great surprise. Didn't really expect this to be as good as I expected, but I really did love it. Man, January has been pretty damn good thus far...

But it won't last, given what I'm covering next... so stay tuned!

Monday, January 16, 2017

album review: 'i see you' by the xx

Hmm... this is a bit of an odd case, and one that you typically see. I can't deny I'm a little amused by it, but the novelty of it all means we should get used to seeing this more often.

See, I liked The xx. As an indie pop group they worked in refining very sleek, reserved R&B-inspired pop songs tapping into a certain minimalist shyness that could be pretty compelling in the right setting. And while I thought their sophomore album didn't quite connect as deeply as their debut, and even despite entirely too many indie pop groups following in their wake to muddle this sort of quiet introspection and make boring garbage, I saw a place for The xx. Not a big place, I would never call myself a huge fan, but they didn't need a lot of space to make their points.

And then their producer Jamie xx released In Colour in 2015. Picking up vocal performances from his bandmates, it was one of the biggest indie records of 2015 - and for good reason, as it picked up a ton of critical acclaim for its lush, gorgeously organic, potent as hell production. Sure, it wasn't doing anything all that new in terms of electronic music, but it had a level of taste, swell, and potency that set it apart, easily making it one of my favourites of that year more than I could have ever expected. But that raises a fascinating question when it comes to band dynamics - the solo sideproject that blew up from The xx was from their producer and with a decidedly different sound and approach to the main group, which raised the big question of where The xx would take it. Buzz was suggesting that they'd be following along with a bigger sound, but could that compromise the reserve and subtlety that made The xx so distinctive? In other words, I was decidedly curious about where I See You was going - so where did it go?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

video review: 'silver' by gotthard

Man alive, I really wish I liked this more. There was a chance this could have worked... and yet it just felt really underwhelming to me, and I can't deny I'm disappointed.

So now time for The xx... whoo, that'll be fun, so stay tuned!

album review: 'silver' by gotthard

I shouldn't be as defensive as I am when I talk about Gotthard.

I mean, this is a hard rock and heavy metal band that has existed for around twenty-five years at this point, this is their twelfth record of original material, they've never released a bad album! So why do I always feel like I'm steeling myself whenever I talk about this Swiss group who is named for a mountain range in their country and a ridiculous pun?

Well, part of it is that Gotthard is a group that has always felt distinctly out of their own time - they're a melodically driven hard rock act that released their debut in 1992, at the very moment that style of music went out of style in the mainstream and became very easy to mock. And they were not a band that decided to leap aboard mainstream trends in rock either - there has definitely been stylistic experimentation and shifts in the tones and sounds, but at the end of the day they're going to throw up the horns and rock the hell out with the sort of larger-than-life swagger that most mainstream music seems to snub as being too much fun. I like Gotthard in the same way I like Andrew W.K. - there may be a simplicity to their formula on the surface, especially in the lyrics, but when you execute it so well, I can appreciate the power and purity that shines through. Now of course if you've dug in deep to Gotthard's discography you'll know there's a lot more beneath the surface than meets the eye - an old-fashioned style of performance and composition, to be sure, but Gotthard has continued to update their production while still maintaining the core of their sound

As such, it should be no surprise I was primed to enjoy their newest record - it's been three years since their album BANG! completely blew through any expectations I might have had, and it's their third album with frontman Nic Maeder stepping in for the late and legendary Steve Lee. They know their lane, they're a band that can literally take any possible direction at this point in their career - where does Silver take us?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Thursday, January 12, 2017

album review: 'something together' by courtney patton & jason eady

So I get the feeling this is my fault again in a big way. I mean, I could blame the collective country music press for dropping the ball here - and I do - but to some extent if I was that invested in one of my favourite indie country acts putting out a record, I should have been on top of it. Granted, this is also a prime example of what happens when the artist decides to drop a record early without warning and not having the huge fanbase of someone like Run The Jewels or Beyonce, but we're getting ahead of ourselves with this.

So, if you've been watching since around 2014 you might recognize the name Jason Eady, a Texas country artist who played the sort of relentlessly realistic, amazingly well-framed, powerfully written country that wouldn't seem to have a chance in hell in the mainstream, and while he made his play to that crowd in 2012 with the softer AM Country Heaven, his 2014 album Daylight & Dark pulled no punches. There was a purity to that record's grit and sound that still gets to me to this day, and as such it should be no surprise that outside of... hey look, it's Run The Jewels again, it would have been my top album of 2014.

But if you remember that record, it also had a song with fellow singer-songwriter Courtney Patton called 'We Might Just Miss Each Other', featuring a pair of estranged lovers going to the same bar and trying gamely to avoid each other for plenty of understated and complicated reasons - kind of ironic, given that she's his wife. The two are a songwriting pair, and that's a powerhouse couple to be reckoned with, so I was eagerly anticipating their planned acoustic collaboration Something Together, especially if they were primed to push their songwriting into interesting places to play different roles. The album was announced in October of 2016 to be released in early 2017... and then the record leaked early on Courtney Patton's website, with physical copies now available this year. And from what I can tell, nobody really seemed to notice because not only did I get no requests for it, but it seems like practically nobody else online decided to review this project, including critics I would otherwise expect to be on top of this! But okay, that happens, and I might as well be first to the punch here, so how is Something Together?

video review: 'run the jewels 3 (rtj3)' by run the jewels

Man, this was a ton of fun, really dug the hell out of this. Not as good as RTJ2, but hell, what is?

Anyway, time to deal with another collaboration that I missed (like seemingly everyone else), so stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

album review: 'run the jewels 3' by run the jewels

Well this is a damn impressive way to start the year, that's for sure. Not Rae Sremmurd or Rachel Platten, only an album that was hotly anticipated by me ever since the last Run The Jewels album topped my year-end list of the best records of 2014!

And hell, if you were going to go back over the past few years in hip-hop and my favourites, you'd consistently see Run The Jewels near the top, mostly because they're a damn near perfect collaboration project that has consistently highlighted my assertion that music that goes hard as hell can still be witty and insightful, and that conscious hip-hop can still bang with the best of them. And while the first Run The Jewels project set the stage with sheer energetic bombast, RTJ2 showed the political firebrand side of both artists break into their set of weirder, nastier beats, from El-P's slyly curving punchlines to Killer Mike's monstrous wallops.

And so you can bet I was looking forward to this record a lot, easily one of my most anticipated of 2017 - and yes, I know they dropped a free version at Christmas during 2016, but the physical copy still is coming out this year, I have an excuse to be covering it now - but for the first time, I had some serious trepidation going in. See, if you're familiar with Killer Mike at all outside of hip-hop, it would be because of his very public campaigning for the unsuccessful Democratic primary run of Bernie Sanders. Now I could say a lot about my complicated and frustrating feelings surrounding the realistic implications and effects that campaign had on the election as a whole, but that would be getting seriously political and it would ignore the inevitable frustration with the system that Killer Mike has made public since then. And if that sort of disillusionment started creeping into the music it could make for a frustrating listen, and not just because of everything I just described but because Run The Jewels' politics have always been more naturally anarchistic: broad strokes and exaggerated, but hiding the nuance in the details, and more importantly not really fitting within the system so much as burning it down... and cynicism can be a really bad tone to set behind it, especially if El-P, who didn't really show off the same political drive in 2016 that Killer Mike did, doesn't really adopt the same progression. In other words, while I really wanted to love this album, I had considerable concerns going in: so what happened?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 21, 2017 (VIDEO)

And to catch up on Billboard BREAKDOWN... this. Man, I wish this week had been better...

In any case, it's FINALLY time to talk about Run The Jewels, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 14, 2017 (VIDEO)

So yeah, this is the one I shot from vacation. Overall, decent enough week, but kind of all over the place. Eh, it happens. Enjoy!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 7, 2017 (VIDEO)

So yeah, I forgot to put up these videos here, so here we go, the first Billboard BREAKDOWN of the new year - enjoy!

the top 25 best albums of 2016 (VIDEO)

And here's the final list of my favourite records of 2016 - took too long to post this here, but man, it was worth it. Enjoy!

the top 50 best songs of 2016 (VIDEO)

A little late to post this one, but man, for as long as it took to get right, I'm happy it's done. Enjoy!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 21, 2017

This is one of those oddly deceptive weeks that you occasionally see on the Hot 100 - yes, I will have things to say about our new number one, but the big story there is masking what would seem to be a mostly static week, especially in our top 40. But if you look closer and deeper and beyond a pretty sparse list of new arrivals, you'll see that there's a fair bit more coming downstream - maybe not as many gains as last week but a significant list all the same that does show an interesting shift on the horizon.

Monday, January 9, 2017

the top 25 albums of 2016

And now, the final list, the one that always gives me the most anxiety but also the one that I'm always happy to have finalized by the end of the year - or by the first few days of next year, I'm going on vacation for the first week of January and I'm in a bit of a rush to get packed and ready on time, so this video might be a day or two late. 

But in an odd way that's kind of representative of 2016's albums as a whole, as I've definitely not seen a lot of common consensus surrounding picks - and fair warning, that'll be very true with these as well. Great records in 2016 came in fits and spurts, with a lot of big returns that didn't quite impress me, some debuts that blew me out of the water, and a predominant theme of endings that ran through a lot of albums that I covered and loved this year. I'm not quite sure if it's reflecting the tempo of the times or my personal feelings surrounding the year, but this list really feels all over the place, all albums I loved but coming from radically different locations, styles, and genres than I expected. In other words, there are albums that you will not recognize on this list, and a few major exclusions.

But it also runs deeper than that: for instance, this is the first year I've ever given out a perfect score on this channel - and then I did it twice. I'll get more into this when I talk about the albums at length, but I would recommend you consider my top two choices as interchangeable at best, I flip back and forth with them every day. There's also a whole bunch of albums that narrowly missed the cut, from punk veterans like Against Me!, White Lung and Jeff Rosenstock, to metal and experimental rock like Swans, Savages, Epica and Tarja to hip-hop powerhouses like clipping., Ka, LMNO, Elzhi, and Denzel Curry. And as I've mentioned a number of times, country had one of its best years in recent memory, and that led to some extremely painful cuts, from the superb pop country of Jennifer Nettles to the neotraditional tones of Cody Jinks and Mark Chesnutt to the stripped back indie starlets like Karen Jonas and Dori Freeman. Everyone I just mentioned dropped albums this year you can consider honourable mentions that I couldn't rank if I wanted to and are all worth your time, but now it's time for the list proper, starting with...