Friday, April 28, 2017

video review: 'the ride' by nelly furtado

There's a part of me that feels I put a bit too much effort into this review... but there's also a part of me that thinks it's one of my better ones because I encapsulated so much history and context that turned out quite well. Huh.

Well, next up is Gorillaz, and I'm sure that will be a fun ride, so stay tuned!

album review: 'the ride' by nelly furtado

I'm a little amazed that there were requests to cover this on Patreon - but in a bizarre way, I'm kind of glad I am. And to explain why, I need to explain my complicated relationship with this Canadian pop singer-songwriter, so storytime!

See, back in the early 2000s, the whole prefabricated and super-polished female pop star image was fading out of fashion, but it's not like this style of pop artist was going away, simply just synthesized into a new format. Thus, partially driven by the still-vibrant adult-alternative scene in the 90s, our crop of female pop stars began picking up a little more organic texture and unique personality and detail. It's how Pink became a firebrand, it's how Avril Lavigne broke out of pop punk, it's how Kelly Clarkson earned critical acclaim by going harder, and into all this, barely into her twenties with two fellow Canadian producers, came Nelly Furtado with her debut Whoa, Nelly.

And I hated it. Part of it was overexposure, I'll admit that, given how much Canadian radio will overplay Canadian talent, but for Nelly Furtado it was even worse. I didn't like her voice, her production grated on my nerves, and I despised her artistic persona. See, despite the slightly more earthy style of writing and presentation, it wasn't like the pop polish wasn't there, and Nelly Furtado's quasi-bohemian debut didn't overshadow some really annoying lyrical shortcomings, it felt so phony to me! Now I imagine this makes me sound like Steve Albini talking about Alanis Morrissette or Liz Phair - look it up - but in retrospect it was a more complicated issue: it was a debut that had a distinctive tone and style but Nelly Furtado wasn't refined enough as a performer to fully deliver. That changed on her second album Folklore was a fair bit better... and did precisely nothing in the U.S.. And so, along with so many of her contemporaries in the mid-to-late 2000s, Nelly Furtado decided to 'sell out' - which isn't accurate because she was always part of that system but it's not like the mainstream public understood that - and she hooked up with Timbaland for her third album Loose - and it was the best possible move. Sure, she wasn't convincing in 2000, but six years later with some real stage presence and charisma she released killer singles like 'Maneater', 'Promiscuous', 'Say It Right', and especially the teamup with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake that stands as one of the most defiantly arrogant and kickass mainstream songs of the decade. For two years, it looked like Nelly Furtado had it all figured out...

And then it all fell apart - and believe it or not, I don't really blame Nelly Furtado for this. Sure, probably not the best choice to release an entirely Spanish language album in 2009 rather than perpetuate her momentum, but mainstream pop was shifting to the much more synthetic club boom, and adult alternative was dying a slow death on the charts. Sure, she tried for a comeback in 2012 but by then pop had passed her by, and bad promotion from her label didn't help matters. And so Nelly Furtado did something that took me by surprise but also seemed natural: she went independent, took some time off, and met up with acclaimed indie producer John Congleton through a connection to St. Vincent. And yeah, that gave me a lot of hope going into this project: free of label constraints and old enough to refine her songwriting where she doesn't have to please the mainstream, this could be a new chapter for Nelly Furtado, especially if she remembers the grooves that made her mid-period work so potent. So, where does The Ride take us?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

video review: 'jason eady' by jason eady

Yeah, it should be of absolutely no surprise to anyone that I adore this record. Killer writing, great production, so subtle and understated in the best ways possible, and impossibly tight. GET THIS ALBUM.

And after this... huh, this'll be interesting indeed. Stay tuned!

album review: 'jason eady' by jason eady

It's a bit of a trend for indie country critics - and I include myself in this category - to assert that when it comes to Jason Eady, some people should just leave the room. If you're coming in looking for pop country or style or anything to detract from many have deemed some of the purest forms of the entire genre, especially out of Texas, this is not for you. If you're looking for something that might cross over into the mainstream... well, maybe in Texas, but I'm only qualified to say that because the mainstream country scene has no idea what it's doing and throwing everything at the wall to see what'll stick, from Chris Stapleton to Thomas Rhett. And it's not like Jason Eady didn't dabble with softer tones on AM Country Heaven in 2012 that could have possibly crossed over.

Suffice to say, he didn't stick with it, and in early 2014 he delivered Daylight & Dark, a stunning pure shot of fantastic country music that if not for Run The Jewels would have topped my best albums list that year. And while so many lined up to praise Sturgill Simpson and the other indie darlings as the scene inflated over the past few years, Jason Eady seems to slip out of the picture - and yeah, I partially blame myself for that, because when he dropped an acoustic duets album with his wife Something Together in December of 2016, I missed it too. Part of it is country's lousy web presence, but Eady also seems to run just below the radar for too many folks, and some for whom I've played his material can get a little intimidated by his soft, plainspoken, yet cutting delivery - for a lot of people, it's a purer form of country than they can handle.

In other words, this was among my most anticipated projects of 2017, and I had the highest of expectations going in, especially considering his songwriting only seems to be getting more refined with each passing album. So what does he deliver on a self-titled record?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - may 6, 2017 (VIDEO)

Man, I'm really proud of this episode. Long one, but a damn great one.

Next up, though... finally getting to Jason Eady, and I'm psyched - stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - may 6, 2017

There will be people who won't appreciate what this week means. Hell, I'd put money on the fact that there are plenty of people who have no idea who Kendrick Lamar even is - which yeah, if you've been listening to hip-hop at all in the past decade that'll blow your mind, but a mainstream crossover at this level does mean a lot more. Yeah, there have been plenty of acts who have scored a fluke #1 hit, even within hip-hop - but when was the last time an MC with actual bars snagged the top spot? Here's a little perspective: Biggie got there, but Tupac didn't. Neither did Nas. Jay-Z needed Alicia Keys to get to #1 in 2009. Eminem and Kanye both got there a few times, but they are both pop culture phenomenons in their own right. Lil Wayne never got there on his own - nor has Nicki Minaj or Drake. With Kendrick getting the solo #1... that sort of hit can create a sea change in pop culture, especially if it has any longevity.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

video review: 'arca' by arca

Well, this was... not as thrilling as I'd expect. Eh, it happens, I guess, but still, peculiar all the same.

Next up is Billboard BREAKDOWN - and it's going to be long - and then FINALLY Jason Eady, so stay tuned!

Monday, April 24, 2017

video review: 'silver eye' by goldfrapp

I get that there are people who like this... but I just don't see the appeal. It's a wonky release that never seems to come together, feels way too long and underwritten, and overall just kind of boring. Eh, happens, I guess?

But that's still not the last video for tonight... stay tuned!

video review: 'the seven' by talib kweli & styles p (ft. luke james)

Should have posted this a few days ago, but man, I'm so thrilled that I finally worked with Luke, it was a ton of fun.

But it's not the only video up tonight... stay tuned!

album review: 'arca' by arca

As an artist, I find Arca profoundly frustrating.

I mean, when it comes to experimentation in modern electronic music, you can make a real argument that this Venezuelan producer is pushing into some intense, experimental territory, full of melodic dissonance, off-kilter tunings, atmosphere that is warped and contorted into potent sonic experiences. He's a defiantly unique producer with a distinct sound and style - and yet he's also the sort that frustrates me to no end. See, going back over Xen and Mutant, I keep circling back that despite all of the wild twists and turns, Arca is often at his best when he grounds his experimentation in progressions that add some real foundation. And sure, that might potentially deflect from the raw outpouring of organic feeling and emotion as he describes his music, but you eventually you hearing the patterns, and that sort of semi-improvised style doesn't wow you in the same way.

And thus I had a lot of mixed feelings going into his third album, which is self-titled primarily because, like his early demos, he's choosing to sing on it, reportedly inspired by his friend and collaborator Bjork and her encouragement. Now I have a tremendous amount of respect for Bjork, and her unearthly ability to pull out stunning music, and she clearly sees a ton of potential in Arca. But here's the catch: Arca reportedly chose with only one exception to improvise all of the lyrics on the album... which would probably make sense given his style of melodic composition, but also could reflect a lack of greater refinement - and that concerned me, because thus far Arca had not shown enough to convince me he could carry an album like this on pure, organic, spontaneous talent. That said, he's way too unique to disregard, so how did this self-titled project turn out?

album review: 'silver eye' by goldfrapp

I have a weird relationship with electronic-leaning dance pop. I don't dislike it by any stretch, but I'll be the first to admit that unless the hooks are top of the line, I don't really gravitate to it in the same way as I might country or folk or hip-hop or indie rock that aim for tighter lyricism, or subgenres within metal or electronic music where lyrics are perfunctory in comparison with musical experimentation or raw power.

What this means is that outside of what I cover on the pop charts, I don't tend to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the type of pop that's more likely to chart on the dance charts first, especially if they originate in the UK and aren't strictly in the synth or indie-pop spheres. In other words, it was a real learning experience digging into Goldfrapp, an English electronic duo with whom I had only ever heard in passing - it's not like they ever had a significant impact on the Hot 100. Beginning around the turn of the millennium, they may have drawn on trip-hop, but they took their electronic style across a good half dozen genres over the course of the next decade, from synthpop and glam rock to ambient tones and even noir cabaret, blending retro glam with new, sleek electronic touches. And yet while I found a fair number of their singles enjoyable with Allison Goldfrapp's sensuous cooing set against sharper electronic grooves, I'd also say they're the definition of a singles act for me, as the albums could definitely drag, never quite being sharp enough in the writing or experimentation to stay ahead of the curve. And sure, that wasn't an issue when the most they were compared against was Portishead in the early 2000s, but by the time this brand of electronic dance pop dominated around the turn of the decade, it felt like Goldfrapp was playing catchup again. So after making somewhat of a return to basics with Tales Of Us that got the lukewarm reception it deserved, they did the next best thing: took four years off, and came back with a record that promised to synthesize all of their influences into a new electro-pop record. And hell, given the dreary mess that currently comprises modern pop on the Hot 100, I could use a spark of life: so does Goldfrapp pull it off on Silver Eye?

Friday, April 21, 2017

video review: 'you're not as _____ as you think' by sorority noise

I can't be the only one who is a little surprised that of the emo revival records I've covered (and that's precious few indeed), the first out of the gate is deconstructionist. Huh, looks like my audience knows me.

Anyway, before I get back to the schedule we're going to be taking a little detour on a special collab I've got coming up, so stay tuned!

album review: 'you're not as _____ as you think' by sorority noise

So I probably should have covered this band earlier. Indeed, if you were to look at my past few years of music reviews, an in-the-know follower would spot there's a considerable hole in my reviews, a subgenre that has experienced quite the critical revival that I haven't covered. 

And that subgenre is emo - and yes, I'm referring to the musical subgenre that broke off from hardcore punk and post-hardcore in the early 90s, not the overwrought aesthetic that was beaten into the ground in the mid-to-late 2000s. Now as I mentioned in my Falling In Reverse review, my knowledge of post-hardcore is a little more lacking than I'd prefer to admit, and as such I was exposed to emo music like the majority of people were: through the mainstream crossovers. Oh, I know there were some people who were on the ground floor for Rites Of Spring or Jawbreaker, but I got exposed to it most when I started hearing Jimmy Eat World and then the more theatrical bent that came a few years later - which, if I'm being brutally honest, I tended to like more. From there I took in a lot of the mid-2000s scene with my general liking for Say Anything and I've made some inroads into back catalogs whenever pop punk adjacent to the subgenre gets covered, but when I heard about the emo revival from acts like Touche Amore or The Hotelier or The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die... well, I just wasn't interested. And that's not a judgement on quality, believe it or not - there was just other stuff I'd prefer to talk about and explore, trying to plug as many of my other knowledge gaps like electronic music and black metal.

That said, when I have found the time to listen to more of the emo revival, I've found acts I like, which takes us to Sorority Noise. Thanks to Patreon they wound up on my schedule and going through their first two albums, I found a lot to like - they had a good knack for hooks, some modestly clever and honest writing, and there was real progression from their debut Forgettable to their more melancholic but more tuneful and refined Joy, Departed in 2015. As such, I had every reason to think I'd probably like their newest album You're Not As _____ As you Think, especially if the confessional honesty hit some interesting new places and the tunes were as strong. So, what did we get?

video review: 'inFinite' by deep purple

Yeah, I know, I should have posted this two days ago, but given that I was hitting burnout and I needed a day or two to recuperate (plus, my birthday and such), I wanted to get this out.

And on the note of getting things out, time for some long-overdue catchup - stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 29, 2017 (VIDEO)

So this week... as I said on Patreon, I'm not precisely pleased with the thumbnail, but I think the episode turned out okay, which is fine.

Next up, Deep Purple and then something I should have tackled a month ago - stay tuned!

album review: 'inFinite' by deep purple

Look, even despite being a longtime Deep Purple fan, I don't think anyone expected their 2013 record Now What?! to be as great as it was. 

Their first record in eight years and their first after the death of long-time keyboardist Jon Lord - it showed a band reinvigorated yet again, surging forward with the sort of progressive experimentation and flair that didn't reflect a band that had been around for over forty five years! And sure, you might be able to pass along some credit to legendary producer Bob Ezrin, but it's also hard to ignore that Deep Purple are one of the most resilient hard rock bands still working. Let's get brutally honest, you can probably count the number of rock bands who tour as extensively as Deep Purple does for as long as they have on one hand, and to see a resurgence of quality in the compositions and songwriting - long one of the areas the band has struggled on weaker albums, of which there are a fair few - was a true marvel. 

But like it or not, you can't do it forever, and there's a part of me that knew it would only be a matter of time before Deep Purple set their instruments aside, perhaps to go off on one glorious high note as hard rock legends. They had finally been inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, an honor many had said they had deserved for decades, they were coming off the most critical acclaim and popular attention they had received in years if not decades, and unfortunately drummer Ian Paice had suffered a minor stroke in June of last year, which affected his right hand and fingers. And to end things off with one last ride called The Long Goodbye Tour and a record called inFinite, I had the feeling that this might just be the last record we get from Deep Purple. So enough reminiscing and nostalgia, what do we get on inFinite?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 29, 2017

If this was any normal week, I'd be inclined to say it was transitional, an otherwise regular week as older tracks rotate out in preparation for spring. Maybe even a little unexceptional, given that The Chainsmokers seem to have finally hit their fifteenth minute with no new songs from their debut album making a significant impact. But this is not an ordinary week, because with the monstrous streaming numbers that Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. is currently racking up, it's a more a question of which tracks will survive what's coming.

Monday, April 17, 2017

video review: 'coming home' by falling in reverse

So yeah, this... actually not quite as painful as I was expecting, but it's pretty bad all the same. Eh, whatever.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN and a record I've been eagerly anticipating all year, so stay tuned!

album review: 'coming home' by falling in reverse

Well folks, we finally got there. We've finally landed in the territory that I was dreading but knew with Patreon knew it was only a matter of time before I hit - the sort of Warp Tour band dregs that came in the aftermath of the pop rock boom of the mid-2000s and hasn't gone away. You know the place: where post-hardcore blurred with all the trends of modern pop and rock that nobody wants to hear to mutate into genres like crabcore, electronicore, deathcore, and a brand of pop punk blurred with screamo that traded insight or heartfelt power or even raw cleverness for pure obnoxiousness.

Hey, can you tell I'm talking about Falling In Reverse yet? Yeah, just because I've avoided them like the plague before this review doesn't mean I didn't know about Ronnie Radke's project after Escape The Fate fell apart. I actually had my first exposure to the group from seeing them - along with a lot of other horrible bands I hope to never cover on this show - on Mues' show First Impressions, and characteristically my first impression was a significant amount of revulsion. Yeah, their lead guitarist could pick up a tune on the solo and they could build to a decent if utterly derivative groove, but Radke's mugging delivery and the sense he bought into all of the lyrics he brayed made him utterly impossible to like. At least when Fall Out Boy gave the middle finger to their audience on Save Rock And Roll you can tell there was craftsmanship in the writing or experimentation - whereas that same year, Falling In Reverse released Fashionably Late which tried to pile in the synth against painfully gated drums, a ridiculous mishmash of genres, and utterly insufferable writing. And while there was a part of me that thought they might have been doing this ironically, sort of like the alternative metal genre blend Icon For Hire did, revisiting the record for this review convinced me otherwise - painfully. Thankfully, the band pivoted back to their blend of post-hardcore and pop punk with their 2015 record Just Like You - granted, that presumes you like a lot of post-hardcore, which for the most part I just don't. It at least felt like a ballpark where their sound and writing fit better... which they looked to be abandoning on their very next project which was going straight into pop punk space rock. I'm assuming that's the only reason why someone requested this - maybe as revenge for being ambivalent on that Starset record I've already forgotten - but whatever, there was a certain morbid curiosity in seeing how Ronnie Radke's brand of mugging would translate to the stars, so what did we get with Coming Home?

video review: 'DAMN.' by kendrick lamar

Well, this turned out pretty damn awesome, have to say. Not quite at the level of his greats, but eh, that happens, to follow To Pimp A Butterfly would have been crazy...

Anyway, next up... oh god, stay tuned for this one...