Monday, June 17, 2019

video review: 'shepherd in a sheepskin vest' by bill callahan


Okay, so this was promising... long-winded both in the album and me talking about it, but I think this turned out alright enough.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN for the week and then... hmm, not sure. Stay tuned!

album review: 'shepherd in a sheepskin vest' by bill callahan

So I'd like to continue off of something I brought up in the Weyes Blood review and it does come with a bit of self-awareness on my part. I opened up that conversation with the discussion surrounding the sudden critical convergence that can happen around indie acts for a single project that can leave just as quickly, but there's another category of acts in an adjacent lane: the indie acts who do get consistent critical acclaim, but never seem to reach the larger conversation. A lot of singer-songwriters and smaller-scale acts wind up in this group, the folks who will reliably make critics' year-end lists, but rarely at the top, and while they will have a persistent cult following, they tend to be artists that even critics forget to revisit - until, out of the blue, they decide on a lark to give the album a spin and are stuck wondering why they don't put it on more often. Which is not quite as bad of a situation as what happens to the one-album-critical-darling, but can be deflating for an artist who would probably wish their name came up in the conversation a bit more.

And for me, I can't think of many acts that fit the bill more than Bill Callahan, previously known as Smog for a string of good-to-spectacular albums throughout the 90s and 2000s - until he switched to using his own name in 2007 and the quality never seemed to stop. And I'll admit I was late to the party - I first heard some of his work with Apocalypse in 2011, but it was Dream River in 2013 that really sealed the deal, a stunningly subtle and potent album that featured one of my favourite songs of that year in 'Summer Painter' and brought a level of cohesion and laconic focus to his brand of writing and production. It's rare to confront a singer-songwriter who can say and imply so much with so few words - in the 2010s the only singer-songwriter who comes close to what Callahan delivers is Courtney Marie Andrews, and even then stylistically they're in different phases of their career and very different lanes, but there is a similar road-weary, textured atmosphere both can command that gives their words so much more. But it's been a while since we've heard from Callahan - he put out a dub album covering Dream River in 2014 and a live album in 2018, but it's been a while since we've gotten new material... and he's got a lot of it, a full double album with a renewed focus on his current domestic life. Now I'll admit I've had mixed results with these sorts of projects, just because of the phase of life I'm in - it was one of the reasons Lori McKenna's The Tree didn't quite hit as strongly for me last year, and there's someone else who deserves to be in this conversation - and twenty songs of Bill Callahan's style and cadence is a lot, but I figured I'd let this sink in, so what did we get out of Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

video review: 'infections of a different kind / a different kind of human' by AURORA


And here we are - everyone who is asking, I think you might handle this one a bit better than last time (or at least I hope so).

Next up... honestly, I've got a pretty light schedule for the week ahead, so we'll have to see - stay tuned!

album review: 'infections of a different kind / a different kind of human' by AURORA

So I've talked a little about backlash that I've received for certain reviews - I don't tend to bring it up much because it honestly doesn't faze me much anymore, but there are certain cases where I'm a little bewildered at the intensity of the anger or vitriol, mostly because it comes in reviews where I'm more mixed on the project than outright negative. And 2016 was a year where I had more of those episodes than most, but what I think threw me off the most starkly was the response to covering the Norwegian indie pop artist AURORA. Now I'll admit I wasn't really kind to her debut project, but the truth was that I was more ambivalent to mixed on it as a whole - it wasn't really bad, but it also wasn't that distinctive or memorable either, a well-trod indie pop lane that frankly has only felt more oversaturated in recent years. The comparisons I originally made were to Christina Perri and Elvya, but going back to All My Demons Greet Me As A Friend now, it's abundantly clear I should have made the parallel to Florence + The Machine, just swapping out some of the chamber pop with lilting, slightly gothic folk that played on creepy girl weirdness in a way that's felt depressing conventional, or at the very least overplayed. 

So I'll admit I was in no hurry to hear more from her and indeed I skipped her 2018 project Infections Of A Different Kind, especially with the expectation this was part one to a full-album part two dropping this year, which is why I'm covering both here. And I figured I'd go in cold here - after all, Florence has grown on me considerably over the past few years and I had to hope that all the Bjork poses AURORA was making would wind up translating to slightly more interesting music, so what did we get on both Infections Of A Different Kind and A Different Kind Of Human?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

video review: 'widow's weeds' by silversun pickups


Well, this was very much disappointing - hopefully AURORA will be better as she's up next, stay tuned!

album review: 'widow's weeds' by silversun pickups

So I've never reviewed a Silversun Pickups album before, mostly because there wasn't much demand for me to cover Better Nature four years ago, but I'll admit I had walked adjacent to the band before then - and yet the conversation around this band fascinates me as it exposes a certain divide between critics of certain ages, and also prompts a conversation that surely won't get that controversial, right?

Well anyway, let's go back to 2006 where Silversun Pickups have released Carnavas with the instant classic single 'Lazy Eye', promptly becoming the best incarnation of the Smashing Pumpkins in the 2000s. And if you don't like that comparison, you've immediately exposed the controversy that's unfortunately surrounded this band for years, as with a nasal singer, aggressive loud-soft dynamics coasting on jangling guitar grooves, pretensions to larger sounds, and later in their career a slow pivot towards electronic music, it was an obvious parallel. Now let's put aside that the Smashing Pumpkins hadn't been tolerable since the end of the 90s and that given how the mainstream rock scene was only getting flashier before the aggro tones took over for the end of the decade, there was space for a band like Silversun Pickups... but they were an obvious retread to many critics and that was enough to ostracize them.

And this is where I have to highlight the generational divide, because I'm not going to ignore how much Silversun Pickups sounded like Smashing Pumpkins, but coming from someone who only went back to the Smashing Pumpkins and is lukewarm on the group at best - they're way more inconsistent than you remember and the egomaniacal preening of Billy Corgan hasn't really aged well - I had no problem with Silversun Pickups taking a similar sound in a slightly different direction. That's not saying the band doesn't have problems - the pop pivot hasn't been exactly smooth, the writing has been underwhelming, the band doesn't have the sheer nexus of creative genius that is Billy Corgan, nearly everything they write goes on too long, and I think they've consistently failed to realize their melodic hooks are their greatest strength. But without the foundational Gen X nostalgia for the Smashing Pumpkins, I can recognize where Silversun Pickups are different - less goth and prog, more scuzzy post-punk and shoegaze, with a shaggier approach to melody that has gradually put them in a different lane. Granted, I had no idea what I could get with this project, swapping out producer Jacknife Lee for rock megaproducer and former early Smashing Pumpkins producer Butch Vig, so what did we get out of Widow's Weeds?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 15, 2019 (VIDEO)


Okay, that was a long episode... and yet amazingly I'm ahead of schedule with it, go figure.

Anyway, next up is the equivalent of a double album, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 15, 2019

So this is one of those weeks that I'm just convinced whatever I review, I'm going to wind up pissing people off. And while I'd normally be able to skate by such thoughts on Billboard BREAKDOWN, given that it's in its own separate, equally annoying ecosystem... yeah, a quick glance at our new arrivals is telling me everything I need to know, there's no getting out of the stupid here.

Monday, June 10, 2019

video review: 'titanic rising' by weyes blood


Yeah, I expected this one to get messy... it happens.

Anyway, Billboard BREAKDOWN is up next, stay tuned!

album review: 'titanic rising' by weyes blood

So I'll admit I find myself a little fascinated by the 'critically acclaimed indie blow-up' story, mostly because I'm curious whether they are genuinely as calculated as they might appear from the sidelines. 

And you know how it goes: an indie act who normally has put in a few albums that are well-received but never quite beloved or super-popular suddenly goes to put out a project, and it seems like without warning a majority of critics have decided this is the one to get onboard with this artist, their time is now, and the critical acclaim is so pronounced it almost seems extraordinary. Normally it's when the act puts out their most accessible project but not always - hell, at some points you find yourself wondering what the hell is so distinctive about this one that will drive folks bananas. And this doesn't tend to happen for the consistent critical darlings or your more widely popular hipster mainstays or even your one-and-done flukes, which often leaves me wondering why the hell it's this album or it's this artist. The criterion feels nebulous, and I kind of feel sorry for the artists who might see their hype balloon for one album before all of it evaporating for their next when the formula doesn't change that much. 

So when we get to Natalie Mering aka. Weyes Blood... look, the signs are there this is happening to her. She's been putting out albums in the underground that split the difference between fuzzed out dream pop and more vintage baroque textures - think the opulence of the pop of the mid-60s before firmer grooves took hold in the latter half of that decade - and I've always thought they were okay enough with decent writing, but nothing that jumped off the page or I found truly riveting, both on the albums or her collaborations. And that seemed to be the critical consensus too, and yet suddenly this becomes the project that has won folks over en masse and is one of the most critically adored projects of 2019, with fans who just will not shut the fuck up about it? I'll admit that it did seem suspicious, but I was open to this potentially being amazing, so okay, intentionally very late to the punch with this, what did we get from Titanic Rising?

the top ten worst hit songs of 2010 (VIDEO)


Well, this was a long time coming, but I'm happy this came out as loose and funny as it is. 

Next up... well, I put up a vote on Twitter and folks apparently wanted me to cover something else instead of AURORA and Silversun Pickups... so I've got a surprise in store. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

video review: 'happiness begins' by jonas brothers


So yeah, this was rough... but the interesting thing is that I'm not seeing a huge backlash to my review, which is kind of fascinating...

Anyway, now onto the bigger matter at hand...

the top ten worst hit songs of 2010

...what, you thought these retrospective lists would only cover the best of the year? 

Yeah, eventually we were going to have to get here, and we might as well start with the first year in the 2010s left uncovered. But first, a quick recap of the chart trends of 2010, a year knee-deep in the club boom, somewhat evenly between the songs that believed the party would never end and those who were desperately pretending it wasn't happening at all. And what was telling was how both sides of that binary wound up on the best and worst lists, which you'd think would balance everything out. And yet that's where you'd be wrong, because the bad songs seemed to grossly outweigh the good in 2010 in hitting the lucrative balance between offensive, obnoxious, or just plain asinine. More to the point, it was also a year where flimsy production that's aged rather badly was everywhere on the Hot 100, and sometimes a song sounding like ass is all you need here.

Now granted, 2010 is one of those years where the factor of, 'Oh, this sucked, but nobody cares anymore so why revisit it', and that tends to be a hidden truth about the Hot 100 - bad trends age badly, but the songs are so disposable that nobody really cares all that much, which tends to paint the years as better than they might be. And while this is true for some forgotten crap, there'll also be hits on this list that somehow remain massive to this day, either because the artists are still celebrities - and probably shouldn't be - or the radio has entrenched them as staples because nobody with brain cells came in the day they decided on syndication. And again, the songs had to debut on the Hot 100 in 2010 - it's widely considered a pretty rough year for the charts, all the more tainted by the fact I personally spent way too much time in the club in 2010, so let's go back to the gungy afterparty rightly forgotten, and the morning hangover that somehow has not gone away, starting with...

Friday, June 7, 2019

album review: 'happiness begins' by jonas brothers

I've said it before, I'll say it again: I missed the Jonas Brothers.

Not that I wanted them to come back or have some sort of fond nostalgia for the group - I literally had to check to be sure they weren't a part of High School Musical, even though they did come from the same Disney pop factory that gave us Miley and Demi - but that they were a little after my time. Strange that they missed my preteen years where I was an open fan of Hilary Duff and my university years where I was an open fan of Glee, but they were pumping out over-polished, basic pop rock where my tastes were more refined even then - you know, Fall Out Boy, Boys Like Girls, Simple Plan, that kind of thing.

But bad jokes aside, I've always had a bit of distance towards the whole Jonas Brothers thing - 'When You Look Me In The Eyes' was a good power ballad, sure, but the production was always mediocre at best and the band never brought a convincing edge or flair to bear, not helped by Nick Jonas needing a few years to grow into his voice... when he then promptly became an underwhelming solo act. And I honestly expected nothing more to come of the old group - Joe Jonas had gone on to his underwhelming pop-funk group DNCE, the third one - I've been told his name is Kevin - went on a bunch of reality shows, and irrelevance would hit once any of these guys hit their thirties. And then 'Sucker' became a radio behemoth riding on safety and nostalgia and suddenly there's a terrible follow-up single with 'Cool' and a new album waiting in the wings, and I'm stuck with a project that all the buzz was predicting was a multi-genre clusterfuck, not helped by the presence of executive producer Ryan Tedder. And look, Tedder has done great work in the past, but he's fallen off considerably since the 2000s and given that I have no real nostalgia for this group, I wasn't going to treat this with kid gloves - so what did we get from Happiness Begins?

Thursday, June 6, 2019

video review: 'between the country' by ian noe


Yeah, thrilled that I took the time to cover this - killer album, easily one of the best of 2019!

Now up next... I think I'm going to spend today catching up on other reviews and that damn top ten list that's not quite finished yet, but we'll see where this goes - stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

album review: 'between the country' by ian noe

So I'm not sure how to broach this the comment in a way that won't be misconstrued, so I'll just say it: I've been struggling with indie country in recent months.

And you wouldn't think that'd be the case - the expectation is that since indie country is free of the Nashville songwriting machine you'd find more variety or flair that's distinctive, but like with other underground genres, you tend to see trends take hold in much of the same way. The vintage rockabilly that might occasionally dabble with soul, the \southern rock and outlaw country bravado, and most frustratingly for me, the stripped-back folk-leaning singer-songwriter material that at its best can produce material like Emily Scott Robinson's stunning Traveling Mercies, but at its worst just becomes tepid, underwhelming, and a frequent reminder that 'unplugged' doesn't automatically translate to 'deep' or 'interesting'. And at some point Dave Cobb will produce something and it's basically a roll of the dice whether you get something striking and memorable or see him tip towards undercooked grooves or a delicate vintage palette that's just become a bit played out. And yes, of course there are exceptions I'll praise - the fact that Alice Wallace brought so much diversity to Into The Blue is one reason that album has held up for me this year - but again, they're exceptions, not the rule.

So when I heard about Kentucky native Ian Noe's debut album Between The Country pick up some critical acclaim with the comparisons to Colter Wall and the Dave Cobb production credit... look, I don't want to sound like a curmudgeon, but I was bracing myself for something good, but that I've heard dozens of times before. But hey, it was either this or listening to Miley Cyrus or Thomas Rhett, so what did I get on Between The Country?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 8, 2019 (VIDEO)


Well damn, this was a messy week (and by some miracle I dodged the copyright bots...) - anyway, next up it looks like I'm going to Ian Noe next, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 8, 2019

I think the chaos of 2018 warped how I normally see the Hot 100. Granted, part of this feels driven by the fact that at this point last year we had been hit by multiple album bombs where 2019 feels more quiet in general, but it also feels like projects that would normally hit with greater impact just aren't penetrating as deeply as you'd expect, leading to a more chart. So maybe consistency is our new normal...

video review: 'ZUU' by denzel curry


So yeah, this was fun - I'm a little pleased that I didn't really get much backlash to this one, but we'll see where that goes...

Anyway, Billboard BREAKDOWN is up next and then probably some country on the docket, so stay tuned!

Sunday, June 2, 2019

video review: '2waymirror' by gabbie hanna


So yeah, I found this better than I expected... actually, more or less exactly what I expected, go figure.

Anyway, next up is Denzel Curry, so stay tuned!