Thursday, November 23, 2017

video review: 'blue lips' by tove lo


Well, this was... mostly disappointing, but eh, it happens. Next up, though... whoo boy, time to handle some old business...

album review: 'blue lips' by tove lo

...is it safe to say I had low expectations going into this record?

Because I remember having the feeling that Tove Lo had so much damn promise coming out of Queen Of The Clouds: clearly ambitious with a lot of personality, aiming to touch on darker, more sexual, more nakedly dangerous and reckless material and with the sharp songwriting and knack for pop hooks that made her a hell of a rising talent in 2014... and then two years later all of that went out the window with Lady Wood, the first half of a two-part project that left a lot of listeners wondering whether the second half would be worth the bother. The melodies had been sucked away, the delivery had shoved the melodramatic impulses and intensity into the murk, and despite clearly trying to convey a potent story, the record felt more conceptually underweight than ever. And that makes for an awkward admission: for as many times as I've listened to Lady Wood, even just a year later I don't remember it at all, and that's not a good sign going into the record's 'sequel'.

Now reportedly this was aiming to be a more emotive and expressive record, less of the dark house elements and more straightforward dance pop - hell, if your lead-off single is called 'Disco Tits', it's definitely clear you're even trying for subtlety this time around! But on the flip side, it wasn't as if she switched up her production or writing teams, so there was a very real possibility this record could wind up as barren and swamped out as her last one. But hey, it couldn't get worse than Lady Wood, right?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

video review: 'no dope on sundays' by cyhi the prynce


Well... damn, I wish I liked this a lot more. It happens, I guess... but still, annoying.

And speaking of possible disappointments... well, stay tuned!

album review: 'no dope on sundays' by cyhi the prynce

So this is one of those debut albums where I can see people being shocked in five or ten years that it took this damn long to come out. Hell, there were a few cynical folks that said the hype would never pay off and we'd never get a proper debut, but for those people following CyHi The Prynce and his fans, it has felt like we should have gotten this record years ago because of all the hype. He was signed to Def Jam in 2009, got a cosign from Kanye and signed to G.O.O.D. Music a year later where he contributed to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he had credits on Cruel Summer and Yeezus all the while he continued to churn out mixtapes, and with his Black Hystori Project tapes even notched some critical acclaim... but where was the album?

Well, I'm not going to say I know the answer here - there was apparently some label confusion and he eventually wound up getting dropped from Def Jam altogether - but I did take the opportunity to go back through those tapes and to my shock I was a lot less of a fan than I wanted to be. And believe me, that came out of nowhere considering I liked his flair for detail and his very real charisma and he tended to have great taste in textured and interesting samples and hooks that went big... but the more I listened to his tapes the more I got the impression of an MC who had a lot of bluster and hard words for people not following the right, respectable path, and yet a fair bit of evidence he wasn't always toeing the straight and narrow either, especially in some of his attitudes around women. Now this is not an uncommon predicament for artists who want to be heralded as leaders in hip-hop, but artists like Kendrick and Big K.R.I.T. are always intensely introspective and self-critical, digging into what their potential hypocrisy and failures meant and reflecting on their experiences to refine some of their most nuanced and compelling work. With CyHi... the seeds were there, but especially on the second Black Hystori Project tape the messaging and hypocrisy began to ring more sour for me. But hey, maybe now that we have a full-length commercial debut - clocking in at a whopping seventy-two minutes - we'll have the room for that deeper introspection to really make things click, right?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 2, 2017 (VIDEO)


Well, this was... awful, actually. Can only hope what's coming up next will be better... eh, we'll see. Stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 2, 2017

So we're now starting the fourth year of Billboard BREAKDOWN, and the plan - at least for me - was that we'd start off with a bang, the flurry of activity that you would expect coming from the massive release of Taylor Swift's reputation... and yet as I predicted last week, the impact was pretty muted, thanks to her one-sided war with streaming that led to the album still not up on those platforms. So what could have been a blowout turns falls limp, and the week actually turns out pretty quiet... eh, it happens.

Monday, November 20, 2017

video review: 'a long way from your heart' by turnpike troubadours


And that's two for tonight - and thank god this is better. Seriously, this is a great record, GET IT.

Next up, a debut that's been very long in coming, so stay tuned!

album review: 'a long way from your heart' by turnpike troubadours

Well, it's about damn time, isn't it?

Seriously, if it wasn't for Patreon tiers shifting this down, I would have covered this record a good month ago - and frankly, I'm a little surprised the country fans I do have on Patreon didn't vote for this more! Maybe it's a factor of the band not quite yet having the same mainstream breakthrough or name recognition as many of their peers... and yet talk to any indie country fan in the know about a go-to band for them, I'd put money on Turnpike Troubadours showing up pretty damn high on their list, they're definitely picking up more of that audience.

So for everyone else, who are these guys? Well, they're an Oklahoma country band that has been putting out damn excellent, textured country records for the past decade - and just like Parker McCollum, they're entirely independent and have built up a pretty impressive grassroots following. But even though they do flirt with the rougher sides of Americana and southern rock, nobody would dare say these guys weren't country through and through, keeping the guitar and fiddle tempos and playing aggressive to match remarkably textured and impassioned lyrics that have supported them on record after record. Now I will say I'd be hardpressed to find a single record of theirs that stands out the most - they've got the sort of uniform high quality that informs bands like Blackberry Smoke or The National or Spoon - but the album I got into them the most was their second record Diamonds & Gasoline that just nails that ramshackle edge perfectly for me, although their self-titled album in 2015 is a damn solid introduction too. And thus when critical buzz was suggesting this was somehow even sharper than their previous efforts, you can bet I wanted to cover it - even if it hasn't proven to be the breakthrough just yet, I wanted to do my part and dig in. So what did I find on A Long Way From Your Heart?

video review: 'the rest of our lives' by tim mcgraw & faith hill


Whoo boy, this was not good at all. Hoped to be better, but it happens...

But that's not all we're getting tonight, stay tuned!

album review: 'the rest of our life' by tim mcgraw & faith hill

Well, this is a bit awkward - mostly because there's absolutely no way I come out of this review looking good, especially given the complicated circumstances behind how and why this album got made.

See, I would put money on the vast majority of you knowing who Tim McGraw is - one of the most consistent hitmakers in mainstream country for the past twenty years and counting - but if you don't know your recent pop or country history, you might not know that Faith Hill was arguably even bigger than he was, especially at her peak in the pop country crossover boom of the late 90s. Seriously, she's sold over forty million records and has had top ten hits on the Hot 100 - even if you didn't like a lot of her music, in the era of easy listening power ballads she was absolutely huge.

And yet that was fifteen years ago at least, so where has she been? Well, it's tough to put your finger on why the hits dried up, but I'd argue it's a confluence of factors. She took a break from touring when she had a baby so momentum sputtered, her release schedule became more scattershot, but I'd put more on the changing trends in pop and country. In the early 2000s country got a lot rougher and more lyrically charged, and if the pop divas found it hard to transition into the R&B era without getting an edge, adult contemporary -leaning artists like Faith Hill found it even harder. I've criticized Tim McGraw for making very sedate country music, but with Faith Hill the polish was even more pronounced. Shania Twain at least had a little more rollicking energy and even that would dry up in the face of stiff competition like Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood. And when Taylor Swift showed up a few years later and pushed country's innocent side into territory that trended younger, it didn't help matters. Couple it with the bro-country boom and the club era and suddenly it's 2017 and Faith Hill hasn't released a non-Christmas album since 2005 - regardless of who you are in the industry, very few if any mainstream acts can be out of the spotlight for that long.

But Faith Hill was going to make a valiant effort anyway, and with Tim McGraw providing his cosign, they went on a tour as a couple this year, husband gallantly trying to revive his wife's career. And yet I had friends and family who were not music critics and who were fans went to those shows and the reviews were shockingly negative, that the performances were underwhelming or unpolished, that Faith Hill's hits hadn't lingered in the public consciousness and she wasn't doing a good job bringing them back. And thus I had some serious misgivings about covering their collaborative album The Rest Of Our Life, because 'Speak To A Girl' had only been okay and just like her husband Faith HIll never wrote her own material. At least Lori McKenna was back to contribute cowriting credits to two songs, but so was Meghan Trainor, so I wasn't sure this would stick the landing. So, how did it go?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

video review: 'ROME' by armand hammer (ft. beezy430 of dead end hip hop)


Well, this was a ton of fun, I'm glad this came through. 

But next up, I've got a few country reviews coming up, so stay tuned!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

video review: 'probably wrong' by parker mccollum


So this was pretty damn good - a little off the beaten path, but still worth reviewing.

Next up, though... well, we'll see, it's going to get interesting. Stay tuned!

album review: 'probably wrong' by parker mccollum

So here's a conversation that a lot of indie country fans probably don't want to have, but the sooner we have it the better off we're all going to be: we have an image problem. And when I say that, the problem is that already we have certain expectations what an indie country act is supposed to look or sound like, and as much as we're supposed to be more willing to embrace sounds that buck trends, we have trends of our own. Trust a guy who has covered plenty of it in the past few years, this genre is saturated with guys with gruff raspy baritones and grizzled beards leaning towards southern rock, or girls with alternative hair cuts and husky voices and tones touching on rockabilly or smooth jazz. And don't get me wrong, I like that image and sound and I like many of the artists that use it, but if we start using it as a barricade against acts coming into the indie country space that could definitely have a place here, that's a problem.

So take Parker McCollum, a guy who's two years younger than me and looks like he could be fronting any bro-country act... and yet dig a little deeper and you end up finding a lot more. For one, he runs his own independent label where he's been releasing projects for the past five years, and going into his first album The Limestone Kid, there's nary a drum machine or drop of Autotune in sight: just straightforward, hardscrabble Texas country with fiddle, pedal steel, rough-edged guitars, and damn good melodies to boot - you can definitely hear the Ryan Bingham and Townes Van Zant influences creeping in. Now that 2015 debut is far from flawless - the songwriting can feel a little iffy at points, and it was clear that McCollum was still growing into his voice, but there was promise there. And when I heard his sophomore project was coming out this year, bundling two EPs plus a few new songs, I was pretty excited - yes, the buzz was suggesting he maybe was adding a little more of a pop flourish with more piano, but if the sound was good and the Texas country edge remained prominent, I had high hopes for this. So, what did I find on Probably Wrong?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

video review: 'what if nothing' by walk the moon


...frankly, I'm amazed I had as much to say about this group as I did. Eh, oh well.

But next up, something a fair bit more underground - stay tuned!

album review: 'what if nothing' by walk the moon

So I've always been a little on the fence about Walk The Moon - probably a good bit more than many people expect, it all you know them from is the 2015 smash hit 'Shut Up And Dance'. And yes, that song did make my year end list for the best hit songs in 2015, but there was a part of me always a little distant from it, mostly because I always questioned how much I liked it because it was Walk The Moon... or because it sounded so much like The Killers-lite.

And look, I have often praised plenty of acts for calling back to the past, but what I've stressed is that the act should do something to make themselves distinct from their influences, and covering Walk The Moon's record Talking Is Hard in 2014... look, it's not a bad album, but it didn't have that memorable star quality for me, not helped by an underwhelming frontman and lyrics that didn't often click when they aimed higher. So when I heard that Walk The Moon was heading in a more electronic-inspired direction - because they're an "indie" band in 2017 and of course they are - I at least had the hope that they were going to do something interesting this time around. On the other hand the early buzz was suggesting they fumbled this too, so I really had no expectations on quality - but what the hell, what did we find on What If Nothing?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 25, 2017 (VIDEO)


And that's the last of this Billboard year... and I'm exhausted and drained by all of it. Walk The Moon tomorrow, good night folks!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 25, 2017

So we've now reached the end of the Billboard year for 2017, the third year I've been running this show. And while I'll have plenty of thoughts about what hits eventually make the year-end list - stay tuned for about a month for year-end lists, I'll have a lot to say - 2017 from a weekly chart perspective has not exactly been one of the more interesting years. Yes, there was a pretty exciting point midway through the year where we flipped over a few #1s in a row and the top ten certainly has felt unstable over the past couple of weeks, but for the most part the year has been dominated by a few absolutely monstrous hits and a whole lot of songs that either blew their hype or never seemed to be that huge to begin with. It left many a track scrabbling to eke out a spot on the year-end list, and what does finally make it through in a month will be fascinating...

Monday, November 13, 2017

video review: 'reputation' by taylor swift


And now the beast is out... whew, this review went way too long.

Okay, next up is Walk The Moon, but first is Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'reputation' by taylor swift

It's hard not to feel sick of Taylor Swift at this point. 

And when I say that, I'm not really referring to the music with this, but more of the media circus and controversy. The celebrity feuds, the fan wars, the over-analysis of her artistic persona and image by critics and journalists fascinated by the inherent contradictions that have run rampant through her career, and that's not even touching on the relationship drama and TMZ-esque gossipmongering that I end up having to care about because it'll inevitably show up in the music! And since her image has been micromanaged within an inch of its life and her publicity is so carefully regulated, it's hard not to get the sneaking suspicion that all of it is so carefully crafted as not to represent a shred of anything real, all so much artifice but no real core.

And it didn't really use to be like this. I'm not going to say that Taylor Swift's pop country roots always felt the most authentic, but there was a level of balance and craftsmanship that went into her first three albums- especially Speak Now, her best record - that represented a fascinating contradiction: the hardworking, perfectionist musician behind the scenes that could somehow also represent the American everygirl because on some level it still fit her experiences. But starting with Red and continuing onto 1989, that balancing act became even more precarious, as her fame and image not only overtook the music but also more of her artistic identity: her songwriting has always had a limited scope but her transition to pop added layers of gloss to the every girl image that became less relatable and more striving for symbolic iconography - she wasn't your everygirl best friend but the hypermodern American girl ideal you wanted to look up to, complete with the ambiguous moral center that began curdling in slow motion. But that balance comes at a price: if you're trying to be that defining archetype and yet you don't have a stable core of ideals, everyone else can project their image of what they think you are on you and if you refuse to ground or take control of your narrative, the negative projections will inevitably overrun the positive. As I have said a number of times in the past, I'm not big Beyonce fan, but one reason why Lemonade remains her best record is that it took all the 'Queen Bey' image and humanized the hell out of it - by grounding the narrative and image she made it so much more powerful and resonant. Whereas with Taylor Swift... it seems like we were going in the opposite direction, the ground sliding away so at best she became representative of a catty, thin-skinned control freak of an artist, or at worst like the projection of white female victimhood, or a projection of far-right leaning authoritarianism! I'm not saying she is any of these things, but the more you lose control of your artistic narrative and can become anything to anyone, the more these alternative viewpoints can take root!

Hence, we have Reputation - and I'll be straight with you all, I didn't expect this to be good. 'Look What You Made Me Do' is a terrible song that gets worse with every listen and sees her try a heel turn and not stick the landing - or maybe even succeeding too well at owning the more pronounced negative narratives - but I will say I was intrigued by the potential of a record like this. If Swift was trying to set the record straight, return some real humanity to her image warts and all and give some definition to that artistic image, there could be potential there. On the other hand, I wasn't exactly looking forward to the artistic contortions that Swift would have to make, especially with all signs showing that the music itself wasn't going to be all that interesting or compelling. But we've danced around this long enough: what did we get on Reputation?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

video review: 'sketches of brunswick east' by king gizzard & the lizard wizard + mild high club


Man alive, I really wish I could have covered other King Gizzard records than this... eh, I finally got it, we'll see what happens for the rest of the year.

Beyond that, I think Taylor Swift is up next, so stay tuned!