Tuesday, May 31, 2016

album review: 'delirium' by lacuna coil

It hasn't been easy to be a fan of Lacuna Coil.

And the sad thing is that most of the fanbase seems to be in agreement that starting with Shallow Life the gothic metal band became a less-interesting shadow of what they were. I'll be honest and say that while I got into them when I was a teenager, I would never consider Lacuna Coil one of my favourite metal acts, but throughout the late 90s and most of the 2000s they were a solid group that had potent melodies and a cohesive sound. And even if their writing has always been a little spotty, there was a lot to like about those records... and then Don Gilmore showed up. With a more commercial-leaning mix, Shallow Life was a pivot towards the mainstream that was too little, too late, and only served to alienate a fair chunk of Lacuna Coil's fans. They made a modest return with Dark Adrenaline, but by the time they released Broken Crown Halo in 2014, having booted Gilmore for Jay Baumgardner, it became apparent that the problem wasn't so much the production but by-the-numbers composition and writing. And yes, that's even with the admission that 'Die & Rise' remains one of the best songs of 2014 for taking a unique point-of-view and twisting it into a kickass song.

So one could argue Lacuna Coil needed a dramatic shake-up - and from all accounts they got it. Both guitarists and the drummer retired from the band, which led their bassist Marco Coti Zelati picking up guitar work along with new arrival Diego Cavallotti, along with hiring drummer Ryan Folden. It rapidly became clear that Lacuna Coil was heading in a new direction, and with lead-off single 'The House Of Shame'... well, they certainly got there, with chugging, borderline metalcore riffs and a much heavier focus on the growled male vocals. And... look, I'm not a metalcore fan, but I was willing to give this a try, especially considering Zelati was handling all production work in-house. So did this work?

video review: 'teens of denial' by car seat headrest

This record took a lot to digest, but overall, damn solid release. Definitely happy I covered it.

Next up, though, is that Lacuna Coil album and if it's going in the direction of its lead-off single... yikes. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 30, 2016

album review: 'teens of denial' by car seat headrest

Let me propose a hypothetical scenario. You're a boss of a fairly well-regarded independent record label - especially considering you don't engage in copyright nonsense on YouTube to stifle criticism - with a pretty potent roster but always hungry to expand. And in the course of sifting through prospects, you find an astoundingly prolific indie artist off Bandcamp known for self-producing some surprisingly catchy indie rock that might have crossover potential. Do you sign this guy, and if so, how do you best market him?

Well, if you're the CEO of Matador Records, this might seem like a no-brainer, but in retrospect bringing the critically acclaimed indie rock project Car Seat Headrest onboard might have been more trouble than its worth. Oh, sure, for production it wouldn't be a huge issue - no need to hire Steve Albini when the mastermind of the project Will Toledo effectively produced everything himself - but how to best position him onto the market, especially considering he already had something of a cult following? In retrospect, I think Matador found a mostly workable solution - take cuts from his eleven self-released records and slice them into a comprehensive whole with a little more polish - but it also meant the buzz didn't quite materialize in the same way, at least for critics like myself.

And yet I started getting requests to cover the follow-up record Teens Of Denial almost immediately - although the headaches had only gotten worse for Matador, as all physical copies of the album have gotten recalled over a sampling clearance mess surrounding an interpolation of a snippet from a Cars song 'Just What I Needed', that Ric Ocasek rescinded at the last minute. Estimated losses are around $50,000 - and for an indie label pushing a relative unknown even despite critical acclaim, that's a considerable loss. Thankfully, I was still able to pick up the album digitally to figure out what the fuss was about - what did I find?

video review: '7/27' by fifth harmony

Well, this was... well, certainly controversial, but I stand by it. 

Next up, Car Seat Headrest, and then probably Lacuna Coil, since Billboard BREAKDOWN will be delayed thanks to Memorial Day - stay tuned!

album review: '7/27' by fifth harmony

And here we go again.

I think there are a few misconceptions that linger from the last time I covered Fifth Harmony and their debut album Reflection, which many people angered that I didn't like the record. And while I'm not surprised at the anger, I am a little perturbed by the intensity, mostly because we've heard all of this before. One of the foundation points of the review was that Fifth Harmony was plainly set up along with Little Mix by Syco Records in order to engineer competition and pull in piles of money, and given my positive reception to Little Mix, my review was quickly dismissed as by some who assumed I had a stake in this. The truth, unfortunately, is a lot less interesting: Fifth Harmony's debut Reflection just wasn't very strong on its own merits, with by-the-numbers production that made some egregiously awful miscalculations, a vocal ensemble that had talent but was also unevenly balanced, and lyrics that ranged from forgettable to hysterical. And I didn't blame the girls for that - Camilla remains the weakest singer who got the lead far too many times, but it's not like she or the rest of the group wrote any of these songs - because, again, I've heard this all before... when they were called the Pussycat Dolls. 

it's actually uncanny how many parallels they have: forgettable guest verses, weak production, a 'leader' who is nowhere close to the strongest singer in the group, and even a British counterpart miles ahead of them in every way that would never get the stateside attention they deserve. Maybe it's because I actually remember the mid-2000s that I can speak to this, having seen pop group competition be engineered so many times before, but at the end of the day, I just want good music, whether it be from Fifth Harmony or Little Mix - I have no stake here either way. And yet while Little Mix has pivoted back towards pop to diminishing returns off their 2015 album Get Weird, Fifth Harmony looks to be in a much weirder state themselves, even despite their lead-off single 'Work From Home' being their biggest song to date. For one, it actually looks like Simon Cowell gave this record a budget and hired on some bigger names for production and guest verses... and yet the music wasn't getting better. Of course they had no writing credits again on this record - yeah, keep calling this a more personal record, ladies, I'm not buying it - but 'Work From Home' was the step towards R&B that had no personality outside of unsettling lyrical implications. And if that was the direction 7/27 was going, I had a really bad feeling about this album - was I proven wrong?

Friday, May 27, 2016

video review: 'if i'm honest' by blake shelton

I honestly thought I wouldn't be able to get this review out tonight - turns out I was able to film and edit two, the latter of which will drop tomorrow and is sure to cause a stir. 

Want to know what it is? Stay tuned to find out!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

album review: 'if i'm honest' by blake shelton

When I reviewed Blake Shelton's last record Bringing Back The Sunshine in 2014, I made the comment that he had to be the luckiest guy working in modern country music. In retrospect, I probably too kind to the guy.

So let's put his career in context, shall we? A mild-mannered b-lister who played a little more contemporary than Tim McGraw but not quite as rowdy or political as Toby Keith, Blake Shelton got his start in the 2000s with some decent tunes but nothing you'd really care about after you heard it with very rare exception. Part of this is because Blake Shelton maybe wrote one or two songs per album - he wasn't really a distinctive authorial voice - but partially because as a whole he was never all that consistent or interesting, and like everyone else, I assumed when Chris Young came along Blake Shelton would find himself replaced. But then bro-country happened, and having shrewdly snagged a judge position on The Voice that he'd ride to victory after victory, Blake Shelton was able to capitalize on the biggest spotlight he'd ever have to ride the trend to previously unheard of heights. And sure, some of this was luck - Tim McGraw was fighting for artistic freedom against Curb, Toby Keith was sinking into alcoholic mediocrity, and the rest of his competition were either too young or too harsh to play in a similar genial lane - unlike someone like Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton seemed capable of smiling when he was singing, even if he hadn't written a single song on a fair few albums by then. 

And then things changed. His marriage to fellow country superstar Miranda Lambert failed in spectacular tabloid fashion, and he got involved with fellow judge on The Voice and pop star in her own right Gwen Stefani. And while I was eagerly waiting for the album of unbridled hellfire that Miranda Lambert was bound to bring - there's not a woman in mainstream country who can get as emotively raw and pissed off as Lambert since Reba McEntire - I was genuinely curious to hear what Blake Shelton was planning. And the record almost seemed to designed to provoke controversy, featuring the most writing credits Blake Shelton has ever had on an album and the title If I'm Honest. And while there's a part of me that's definitely skeptical - at the end of the day Blake Shelton is a consummate businessman who has never been particularly raw or personal in his writing - I hoped there was something here that cut a little deeper... so did we get it?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

video review: 'hopelessness' by anohni

By the nine hells, this record was unbearable, only salvaged from being lower thanks to one or two good songs. Let's hope that our next record will be better...

Oh, wait, it's Blake Shelton. Eh, whatever, stay tuned!

album review: 'hopelessness' by anohni

If I were to ask you what are the genres that bring up politics the most, what would be your answers?

Well, if I were to guess, you'd probably start with punk, and then follow with hip-hop. Maybe you'd bring up folk or funk or soul, or in a pinch you might mention alternative country or metal. Odds are you would not mention electronic music or synthpop, and there's a reason for that. In the latter case, it's fairly obvious: if you look at the historical legacy of synthpop, most of it tended towards weird abstraction or flighty dance floor jams, and while of course there were exceptions, they were not the rule. With electronic music... okay, you can make more of an argument when you consider certain underground scenes, particularly in inner city Detroit and Chicago where you'd find acts like Jlin, or you might mention acts like The Knife, which got very political on their 2013 album Shaking The Habitual to very mixed results, at least for me. 

So what about an artist like Anohni? If you don't recognize the name, don't worry, she's only been performing under it for this record, previously leading the band Antony and the Johnsons. Now keep in mind that Antony and the Johnsons are a baroque pop group that's received a ton of critical acclaim - mostly for good reason - but this is also her first album in six years and her first real venture into electronic music. Fortunately, she pulled in some heavy hitters to help her, the first being Hudson Mohawke, who is most well-known for working with Kanye West. The second is Oneotrix Point Never, a critically acclaimed experimental electronica musician who, yes, I know i need to hear more of his stuff, it's in my ever-expanding backlog. In other words, we could very well have another situation like Anna Meredith, the fusion of electronic and classical music... but on the other hand many of the statements Anohni made before this record implied this was to be a much more political work. Okay, that's a loaded implication, but I figured it'd probably be worth a few listens, so I checked out Hopelessness - what did I find?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 4, 2016 (VIDEO)

Well, this was a weird week - and arguably one of my weakest episodes of Billboard BREAKDOWN in a while. Flubs, not catching on that Drake's revival was thanks to Spotify... ugh, not pleased with this.

And on that note, ANOHNI review is up next, so stay tuned!