Wednesday, March 21, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 24, 2018

You know, there's a part of me that's really getting sick of the streaming album bombs, mostly because it feels like it makes covering the albums in a full review kind of redundant... even though by covering them at some point on my schedule I'd probably get more traffic overall, which is all the more exasperating. But why get one album when you can get two, because this week, the big competition comes between Logic and Lil Yachty, the latter who I literally forgot dropped a mixtape a week or so back even despite some critics giving it praise. Eh, given that it's less of an album bomb than a scattering of songs in between Logic, we'll see what we get there.

Monday, March 19, 2018

video review: '?' by xxxtentacion

None of you should be surprised by this. Fuck, I'm just waiting for the backlash train to roll in, especially considering some of the comments I made about relatability.

Whatever - I've got better hip-hop on the horizon to care about than this dreck, but before that, Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: '?' by xxxtentacion

The key word of this review is enablement - because while I've gone off a number of times on Billboard BREAKDOWN how given the changing times and cultural norms it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense that a rapper like XXXTENTACION would have a career, much less flourish the way he has. You'd think given the domestic abuse charges and how so much of his art has not just referenced it but coaxed it through a blurry haze of malformed self-loathing to seemingly justify or excuse his actions that he would have thrown to the curb... and yet he accumulates hip-hop cosigns from artists you'd think would know better and ever-increasing chart success.

But I know the answer - and even if you're not a fan and you're just here to see me rip this record to shreds, you're probably not going to like my answer, because it's the sort of uncomfortable indictment of our relationship to artists that especially younger audiences probably aren't ready to address and why their defense of said acts in the face of critics like me seem so much angrier - just like it was with nu-metal nearly twenty years ago, just purified down by a social media environment that gives us the feeling that we are closer to the artist than ever before. But with certain Soundcloud rappers like XXXTENTACION it runs deeper - you don't aspire to be XXXTENTACION so much as you relate to him, reinforced by the homegrown, amateurish style that lets you imagine and project yourself onto him as the artist using the excuse of deeply held art to excuse your own acts. And it becomes personal, a siege mentality when critics or the rest of the world calls it out because by extension they're calling out a part of you out, a part you feel you already have to repress in the larger world, especially against a rising tide of culture that speaks against it. And thus come the blind eyes and the free passes en masse and as the success grows with the culture it nearly always becomes toxic for the artist with any self-awareness given the groundswell of enablement, and thus you see one of three cases: they turn on their audience outright, they acquire the means to ascend past their audience and sacrifice some of their relatability, or they burrow into that niche, an ever-shrinking ouroboros that will eventually consume itself. And if you think this hasn't happened before in artists that haven't trafficked in relatability, especially trending towards darker impulses, the stream of examples can seem endless with the benefit of history. Eminem. J. Cole. So much of nu-metal and pop punk and emo. Taylor Swift. 

Of course, there are cultural consequences to all of this, and the list of artists that realize it is slim indeed - hell, Eminem got it as early as the first Marshall Mathers LP and has been making self-conscious reference to it ever since. But for XXXTENTACION, he has nothing to pull him out of that spiral of enablement except when his audience gets bored and moves on when the music doesn't engage further - the fickle price of maturity and a refusal to evolve artistically in favor of doubling down, which is dangerous but expected when riding the subtle tides of cultural backlash... unless, of course, XXXTENTACION pulls a fast one and surprises his audience. Unfortunately, we're still in the midst of that wave's ascent and my role here is the critic who must smack this down as the amateurish dumpster fire that it's likely to be... but in theory I get the appeal of a record like this, and if it provides me the constructive context to address it properly, we might be able to address this properly. So fine, what did we get on ? ?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

video review: 'seasons change' by scotty mccreery

And I'm happy I got to knock this off my list, you'll definitely enjoy it too!

Next up... not nearly as enjoyable, so stay tuned?

album review: 'seasons change' by scotty mccreery

So here's the ugly truth about not being an a-lister in mainstream country: you have no room for error. It doesn't matter if you have one bad song that strikes in the middle of a trend that would otherwise be excused, if that flops then your career is pretty much toast. A-listers in country... well, depending on their clout they've got a little more wiggle room, especially if they manage to correct their course and deliver another hit. But even if you have a grassroots following, if you're not a major star in an already oversaturated market, a flop single likely will consign you to the dustbin of history.

And for the longest time, that's what everyone thought happened to Scotty McCreery - coming off of American Idol his major label debut moved over a million copies, and while his follow-up See You Tonight in 2013 was hedging his bets in the tide of bro-country, it still moved a lot of units... and on one of its deep cuts produced one of the best songs of the decade. Yeah, in case you're wondering why I'm bothering to cover this, 'Feel Good Summer Song' is the reason, a tremendously emotive and borderline subversive song that basically ripped the guts out of bro-country three years early! Why nobody bothered to release this as a single... well, if you take a look at Mercury Nashville's criminal failure to market any of their good artists worth a damn, I'm going to blame them. I'm also inclined to blame them for 'Southern Belle', that flop single that Scotty McCreery released in 2015 and for intents and purposes effectively killed his career, which led to him leaving the label and signing to Triple Tigers, a new country label built as a partnership between acclaimed indie distributors Thirty Tigers and Sony. And in comparison to his last effort, this looked to be a much more neotraditional affair, bolstered by the release of the pretty damn good 'Five More Minutes' and a much more streamlined production team. McCreery had writing credits on every song, he looked to be more in his comfort zone, and with 'Five More Minutes' suddenly becoming a hit, I had a fair amount going into this... so is Seasons Change the comeback story we've all been waiting for?

Friday, March 16, 2018

video review: 'season 1' by epic beard men (sage francis & b. dolan)

Yeah, I know I'm late to the punch with this one, but I'm thrilled to cover it all the same - definitely check this one out, you've got no excuse not to!

Next up, let's head towards a country return long in coming - stay tuned!

album review: 'season 1' by epic beard men

It's hard for me to get excited about a lot of mainstream hip-hop these days. Of course that's not saying that it's all bad or that we don't have artists who stand out, but when even Kendrick phones in his verses and the #1 song on the Hot 100 is a Drake song that I still don't think I could remember if I tried, it's not exactly a good situation. And then I see artists like XXXTENTACION and 6ix9ine who feel so damn one-dimensional and I'm left thinking about the artists who paved the lane for emo rap but who could still turn in with aggressive production and bruising wordplay...

And enter Sage Francis and B. Dolan, two Rhode Island MCs known for spoken word poetry, thorny, hard-hitting bars, and the sort of raw, vulnerable subject matter that most MCs would never dare put on wax. Both of these men have made my year-end lists - Sage Francis with Copper Gone and B. Dolan with Kill The Wolf - and considering their long-running friendship and mighty beards, I knew it'd only be a matter of time before we got a team-up of some variety. And yeah, it's just a free eight song EP, but considering it's not much shorter than that upcoming XXXTENTACION album with eighteen songs, I'd prefer to hear from the genuine article in this scene first, even if again I'm a little late to the punch covering it. So all right, what did we get on Season 1?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

video review: 'firepower' by judas priest

So this was a lot of fun - not especially as heavy as the last one, but sometimes it doesn't need to be, definitely worth checking out!

Next up, let's knock something equally as fun off the list that's a little older - stay tuned!

album review: 'firepower' by judas priest

You know, I don't even I've ever mentioned my opinion on Judas Priest in any of my reviews before now. And for a band that's one of the foundational groups in the creation of heavy metal, it surprises even me that I haven't really weighed in on them... although if I'm being very honest, I can't really say my opinion is all that controversial this time. Even despite the fact that I'm not the biggest fan of straightforward thrash, revisiting the entire Judas Priest discography before this review reminded me why I still really like these guys. Granted, I am one of those fans that will call Stained Class as his favourite record from Judas Priest and will admit he's not quite as crazy about their synth-infused mainstream breakthrough in the 80s in comparison to their 70s work - although Painkiller was a pretty damn great return to form - but that's more because some of the glitzier 80s production choices haven't quite aged as well, especially around the drums and vocals, less about some pretty great compositions themselves. As for the 90s and 2000s records... look, are were very few if any bands that are consistent twenty or thirty years in, especially given the massive upheavals in metal around that time, and it's not like Judas Priest always had the most consistent discography even in their glory years.

So fast-forward to 2014, and despite having lost one of their founding guitarists K.K. Downing, Judas Priest releases Redeemer Of Souls, and for many it's cited as a big return to form, thanks to a welcome shot of energy from newcomer Richie Faulkner and Rob Halford remaining a powerhouse in front of the microphone. Granted, Judas Priest records have felt increasingly overlong in recent years and that project was no exception, but Firepower looked to be calling back to the past, slimming down under an hour and even bringing on their old producer Tom Allom to assist, along with Andy Sneap to add some modern touches. And like with when I covered Deep Purple's inFinite last year, I was preparing myself for this to be Judas Priest's last: Glenn Tipton had been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and couldn't tour anymore, and as much as Rob Halford could still deliver, the band's debut came out in 1974, forty-four years ago - so okay, what did we get with Firepower?

video review: 'cocoa sugar' by young fathers

Yeah, I knew this review would be controversial... but hey, it happens, I've got to be honest.

Next up, Judas Priest - stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

album review: 'cocoa sugar' by young fathers

I'm genuinely surprised it's taken me this long to talk about Young Fathers at all. It's not like I wasn't aware the group existed, but they always seemed a little adjacent to the music that's normally on my radar, so this review was going to be a learning experience for me.

So okay, Young Fathers: a trio from Scotland that started on the indie label Anticon with a particularly off-kilter brand of hip-hop to which I couldn't really trace a clear sonic lineage. The melodies were cavernous and droning, the beats were blocky but still carried an impressive amount of groove, and the two MCs presented a brand of unsettled melancholy that used blunt but heavy language to convey increasingly bleak ideas, along with harmonies that were surprisingly stirring. I'm not really certain it was my thing - I do think the songwriting took a dip for the full-length debut Dead along with a weird synth-rock pivot with a smattering of alternative R&B, but it was compelling in a curious way, not quite with the level of propulsive power I'd see in a group like Algiers or Injury Reserve or Death Grips, but I got the appeal. But then they shifted again towards a lo-fi, indie pop rock sound a year later for a record with the loaded title White Men Are Black Men Too, and... honestly, while I think it's a solid enough record, I think I might like it more for some of the ideas the trio was trying to explore conceptually than the sound itself, as the pop or rock-leaning elements could feel a tad hit-or-miss against their production style. But hey, who knows what direction they could be taking with this project, now on the Ninja Tune label proper, so what did we get on Cocoa Sugar?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 17, 2018 (VIDEO)

And here we go - took a lot of processing power to get it out the door, but it turned out pretty well as I still keep tweaking my camera.

Next up, looks like Young Fathers - stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 17, 2018 I said last week that most of my general predictions surrounding the week came true about the expected activity, and while I also did say that I expected Meghan Trainor to break through this week, I also made the statement that I didn't expect much else to happen. And boy, was I wrong in the worst possible way, as despite a few very select gems, XXXTENTACION and Chris Brown of all people showed up to remind me that the charts might just be at their most intolerable since 2016, and there's far from enough good songs to save them!

Monday, March 12, 2018

video review: 'american utopia' by david byrne

So this review isn't quite getting pilloried just yet... okay, I'll roll with that, and just expect the mass subscriber exodus to come later.

Anyway, next up is Billboard BREAKDOWN and Young Fathers, so stay tuned!

album review: 'american utopia' by david byrne

So I've talked a little before about legacy acts, artists who were a fundamental part of the evolution of a specific genre or sound and who have won a certain amount of popular and critical acclaim for whatever they choose to do next, often with a measure of clout and collaborative pull that few could approach. But let's ask an uncomfortable question: what do you do with said acts when the legacy starts to get reexamined, and you come to the realization that while the emperor probably still has some clothes, it's a fair bit less than one might expect?

And yes, I get that by me making that statement even in connection with David Byrne I've set myself up for backlash... but it's hard not to feel like in recent years the narrative has shifted. His reputation as the mastermind behind The Talking Heads has shown more than a few holes in the past couple of years - a reputation many have suspected he achieved by stifling other voices in his group - and while his work with Brian Eno won critical acclaim, many have questioned how influential those pieces were. Even his film scores, one of which netted him an Academy Awards, while the quality is often appreciated in the 80s it gets a lot less listenable when you head into the and parts of the 2000s.

And look, as a fiercely intelligent personality in modern culture and music, I like David Byrne, but the more I delved into his content and themes the more I found myself questioning how much perceptive depth has really been on the table this whole time. I mean, I like self-obsessed deconstructions and wry observations as much as any critic, but just being more clever than everyone else doesn't always add up to more, with the most glaring instance of this being his collaboration with St. Vincent Love This Giant, a stiff and absolutely frustrating affair where two artists who have enough similarities to challenge each other but are instead content with mirrored stiffness. And thus when I say I was skeptical about his newest project American Utopia, a project that Byrne admits was searching more for some abstract uplifting feeling and possibilities than engage with reality, to offer a shred of hope. To me... well, it wasn't a bad idea, and he brought onboard Brian Eno, Sampha, and Oneohtrix Point Never to help, so I had some faith this could be at least interesting over ten tracks running less than forty minutes, so okay, what did he give us on American Utopia?

Saturday, March 10, 2018

video review: 'khrysis & elzhi are jericho jackson' by jericho jackson

Man, I really wished I could call this great... but I just can't. It's on the cusp, but there are problems I can't quite ignore. Meh, it happens.

Okay, next up... David Byrne. Whoo boy, that'll be a doozy, stay tuned!

album review: 'khrysis & elzhi are jericho jackson' by jericho jackson

Man, I wanted to get this review out earlier. 

And that's the problem with certain indie hip-hop projects: you might see the duo name and shrug unless you know who it is, and when I heard it was actually the Detroit MC Elzhi teaming up with veteran indie producer Khrysis to assemble a project, I definitely wanted to get in front of it... but it fell back on my schedule and I just never got the chance to push it up before now. Not ideal by any means, but considering how this seems to have flown under the radar for a lot of critics, both on and off YouTube, better late than never!

And while most of you should know Elzhi from his work in Slum Village or his mid-2000s breakthrough The Preface, newer listeners might have caught his 2016 release Lead Poison, the sort of layered hip-hop overflowing with great storytelling that hooked me very quickly, even if I wouldn't quite call it a personal favourite of mine that year. Now with Khrysis... hell, dig into the liner notes of Justus League, Little Brother, Rapsody and Jean Grae and you'll see a list of credits going back to the early 2000s, infused with the sort of textured, jazz-influenced samples that'd be a natural backdrop for Elzhi to dominate. So with them teaming up for a tight collection of songs just under forty minutes, I had a lot of high hopes for this, so what did we get from Khrysis & Elzhi Are Jericho Jackson?

Thursday, March 8, 2018

video review: 'superorganism' by superorganism

I'm not sure how many people will care about this review - or hell, how many people even give a shit about this group, I might be seriously misreading the buzz they have - but really, I think more folks should give them a look, if only because the BROCKHAMPTON comparison is bound to turn a few heads in the right direction.

Anyway, next up is some old business - stay tuned!

album review: 'superorganism' by superorganism

So I make reference all the time to how in the modern age there has been an explosion of music for audiences to find and access over the internet, more than I'll likely ever be able to cover. But there is a second side to this, and it comes in the creative side - namely that the Internet makes meeting and collaborating with fellow musicians so much easier, especially if you're not all in the same place. 

And while there are some cases where the members send in their parts remotely and only come together to tour, in recent years the DIY collectivist side of many acts eventually draws them together - we saw this with BROCKHAMPTON and now it seems like we're seeing it again with Superorganism. Now originally this was more of a conventional band, a four-piece New Zealand group called The Eversons that put out a few records in the early 2010s, but when they connected with future frontwoman Orono Noguchi, they made plans to emigrate to London and all live together, eventually bringing on board two other singers from New Zealand named Ruby and B and a South Korean singer named Soul, who has not yet joined the collective in London. From there, it seemed like an indie pop version of what BROCKHAMPTON had done halfway across the world, just this time focused more on indie pop and dance - and they've had a surprising amount of success, including a single on the FIFA 18 video game and a minor charting hit on the alternative charts. So there was certainly buzz with their self-titled debut and I'll admit I was curious, so what did we get from Superorganism?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

video review: 'no news is good news' by phonte

Well, this was pretty excellent - honestly, I think I like it more than his solo debut, it's tighter and the rhymes click way more effectively.

But now I think it's time for something weird... how about some Superorganism, so stay tuned!