Thursday, February 23, 2017

album review: 'sing it now: songs of faith & hope' by reba mcentire

I don't even know where to start with this one.

See, when I saw this come up on Patreon, I literally went to the guy who requested it and asked politely if I could skip it or he could ask for something else, and I figured I'd have good ground: after all, it's a selection of traditional religious hymns, that's not something any critic normally covers. And there's a very good reason for that, given that the music on a record like this is normally secondary at best, with instead the main purpose being for worship. And again, that's not saying that music can't have religious themes, but when you're considering the art of it all, you're left scrabbling for something that's often not even as relevant, especially on a lyrical level. There are, of course, exceptions, but in certain brand of evangelical gospel, poetry and writing often take a back seat to conviction.

But then it was pointed out to me that there was indeed a second disc of entirely original religious songs... and I still wasn't very satisfied at all, my overall point still stood. But then I thought, 'Well, hey, this is Reba McEntire, the country artist who managed to survive the overly sanitized 80s in order to become one of the most impressive and long-running hitmakers in the 90s, there'd undoubtedly be some quality here'. And hell, I even stand behind her self-titled TV show as being a lot smarter and well-written than so many people gave it credit, and she was an expressive actress. And it wasn't like there wasn't a demand for this album: it debuted at #4 on the Billboard 200, it sold tens of thousands of copies, people clearly were interested. And hell, I still have faith, even though my view of it is a lot more complex and layered than what you typically see in evangelical parishes, so maybe this record could move me despite my extreme skepticism. So are these songs of faith and hope up to that challenge?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 4, 2017 (VIDEO)

Well, this week was all over the place - and seemingly like every meme-associated review I do will probably wind up with a ton of hits, go figure.

Next up, though... actually, I have no idea how many hits this next review will accrue, we'll see. Stay tuned!

video review: 'DROGAS light' by lupe fiasco

I expected there to be a much bigger backlash on this video than what we got. Not complaining, mind you, but an interesting observation. 

Next up, though... after Billboard BREAKDOWN, things get interesting, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 4, 2017

Okay, so as you can all probably see, this episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN is a day late. This is because of President's Day in the United States, another holiday that extends the chart week... and considering the Grammys happened, it also seems to have the peculiar impact of blunting their overall impact on the Hot 100, at least in the way I expected. Now that didn't mean it didn't cascade through - we'll get to that - but it also meant that we got another overloaded week full of changes...

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

album review: 'DROGAS light' by lupe fiasco

Anyone else get the feeling that Lupe Fiasco is trolling all of us?

Look, I've made my complicated feelings on this Chicago MC public before: an imaginative and fearlessly ambitious MC who never felt comfortable with the mainstream due to his tendencies to indulge in all manner of twisty, cerebral weirdness. And the key word is 'indulge': he has the same penchant for extravagant ambition that can make for incredible moments and songs like 'Prisoner 1 & 2'... but can also lead you to the impression that despite good flows or beats his material is more clever than outright insightful. Which is frustrating, because when Lupe could focus on smaller subjects he made songs like 'Kick Push' and 'Deliver' which allowed him to channel his underappreciated pop sensibility, he made phenomenal tracks. But at the same time, he's also got more than fair share of big idea duds that don't have the intellectual heft to back their pretensions - and sometimes he doesn't even have the big ideas!

Yeah, if I had major concerns going into DROGAS Light, Lupe Fiasco's first fully-independent hip-hop album, it was coming in the buzz that this was a 'refinement' of his infamously contentious and very mainstream-focused LASERS from 2011, not aiming to be as cerebral or progressive. The problem is that I've heard Lupe do this sort of satire of mainstream hip-hop before back in 2014, and his commentary has never really impressed me - especially in comparison with artists who brought more real bite to that sort of satire and especially in 2014. So if we were looking at a full hour's worth of that, which many critics have condemned and Lupe himself has only given a 7/10... well yeah, I was worried. But hey, if I was to give LASERS credit, for a radio-friendly record Lupe does know his way around a good hook and even if the content wasn't up to snuff maybe he could bring a couple great bangers here, right?

video review: 'little fictions' by elbow

Well, it took me entirely too long to get to this, but I'm happy I did. But next up... hmm, it's going to be interesting, I can't imagine the fallout will be fun. Enjoy!

album review: 'little fictions' by elbow

So one thing I've stressed a number of times is that while I'm generally fond of Radiohead and while I certainly respect them, I would never consider myself a huge fan. And yet what I find amusing is that there are a fair few bands where you can trace obvious influences to Radiohead of which I'd say I'm a much bigger fan. Muse is one of those bands, Porcupine Tree is another - although there's always been debate how much Steven Wilson pulled from Radiohead, but that's a far more contentious argument - and another is the art rock group Elbow. In fact, given how lush their debut album in 2001 Asleep In The Back was - and if this review convinces you to do anything, go listen to Asleep In The Back, it's incredible - you could easily imagine Elbow as the intersection of a more organic Radiohead and a Porcupine Tree that was aiming to be a tad less progressive and more accessible.

But over the next decade Elbow quickly split from any easy comparison to those groups. Their sound got more raucous, heavy, and diverse on their second record, and after an unfortunate lull on Leaders Of The Free World in 2005, the group regained some experimental pomp and groove with The Seldom Seen Kid in 2008. Unfortunately, with the critical acclaim that came to that album came commercial success, and while there are some acts that have successfully leveraged that for greater artistic heights, Elbow weren't quite one of them. The group had realized one of their greatest strengths came in the unique vocal tones and intricate lyricism of Guy Garvey - the Peter Gabriel comparisons are blatant and a good way - but he also had a bad habit of sliding towards sentiment, and when the underwhelming nostalgic tones didn't quite coalesce on Build A Rocket Boys! in 2011 and the stiffer pomposity of 2014's The Take Off And Landing Of Everything didn't quite satisfy, I was beginning to wonder why I wasn't just listening to The National, who at least could be counted on to carry their melancholic existential crises with more groove and swell. What I think was the larger problem is that Elbow had fallen into a comfortable sound, and if they weren't recapturing the atmosphere of their debut, they were at their best breaking out of it. Now I didn't expect either on their newest project Little Fictions, but hey, I've been surprised before - was I here?

movie review: 'the LEGO batman movie' (VIDEO)

Man, it's been nice to talk about a movie again. Glad I'm going to be doing more of that this year thanks to Patreon, it's been quite a trip.

But not a lot of time to say more, next up is Elbow, so stay tuned!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

video review: 'stories from my notebook' by terrancedamien

Yeah, I don't know how many people are going to watch this one, but overall I'm okay with it. Think I was a tad too quiet in this one, but eh, it happens.

Next up will probably be Elbow and then the LEGO Batman Movie, so stay tuned!

album review: 'stories from my notebook' by terrancedamien

Sometimes you know what you're getting into... and sometimes it's a complete crapshoot. You might have good feelings, but who knows what's coming when you get a record from an unknown artist who says he's been following you since you started your channel a couple years back, waiting for the opportunity to slide in.

Yes folks, this is another act who managed to get his album up the schedule on Patreon: TerranceDamien, an MC for whom I can't find a lot of information but recently seems to have picked up traction thanks to a few freestyles that he compiled into a mixtape last year, and now with this record of ten songs. And honestly, it's rare when I go into a project and have no idea what to expect in terms of production or sound or rapping ability or anything. I saw that there was a label associated with this guy, but I couldn't find any official website or anything else dropped under it, so it looks a homebrew. But that's not a bad thing: purely independent hip-hop projects can be something special if the production and bars are on point: look at Chance The Rapper or Macklemore, so I went into this with clear eyes: what did I find?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

video review: 'chill, dummy' by p.o.s

Well, this was a fascinating and difficult record to crack, but I'm finally glad to talk about it. Next up, though... this is a different, even more indie record hip-hop record coming up, so stay tuned!

album review: 'chill, dummy' by p.o.s.

There's been a part of me that's been a lot more reticent to talk about this record than I probably should be. 

Part of it is that I've gone on record a number of times saying that of all the members of Doomtree, P.O.S. was probably my least favourite. That's not saying he's a bad MC - every member of that group can spit incredibly well, and they all have a knack for fantastic, hard-hitting hooks - but from my experience with both his solo projects and his Doomtree verses, P.O.S. is trying to walk a high-wire act that's high reward, but high risk. Of the group, he's always been the most outwardly political and borderline punk, not just in his content but in his production, which often feel assembled from the rough-edged shambles of his Doomtree work balanced with more ramshackle punk sounds. Coupled with a penchant for bombast, there's a fine line between righteous anthems anchored in real firepower and slipping towards the sort of self-indulgent corniness that can either be grudgingly tolerated or facepalm-worthy, it's no surprise that he was signed to Slug's label Rhymesayers, the two share a lot in common. And just like with Slug and Atmosphere, I can find P.O.S. a frustrating MC, especially with some of his cringier punchlines, flows and delivery that could be uncannily similar to Eminem, especially early on.

So what about his albums? Well again, given that I'm not a huge fan of his, I have a hard time calling out one as an absolute favourite before going into chill, dummy. I will say that Audition was probably the one that annoyed me the most in terms of frustrating lines and tones, but Never Better was a more refined pivot that featured more of the Doomtree crew and was better for it, albeit going on longer than it should. That problem was corrected by his 2012 project We Don't Even Live Here, but that record was frustrating because for all of the stronger grooves and some of his best ever hooks, between awkward synth tone choices and some extremely questionable lyrics it fell towards very uneven territory. So did similar issues show up on chill, dummy?

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

This was certainly a less excruciating week than last time - more diversity here, for one - and I'm fascinated to see how the Grammys impact things going forward. Until then, back to my schedule and... hmm, P.O.S.. Well, this could be fun, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 25, 2017

So folks, did you have enough of me talking about Big Sean when the review dropped last night? Well, it's not over - because to replace Migos and as a lead-in to the expected chaos that'll come with the Grammys, Big Sean brought in six new songs to the Hot 100 to an already busy week. Yeah, believe it or not, I'm not sure he's the biggest story here, from some major shifts in our top ten to a swathe of new arrivals peppering the rest of the Hot 100.

video review: 'i decided.' by big sean

So I got a little nasty in this review... and yeah, I don't regret it for a second. This was mediocre and forgettable, plain and simple, and I had no patience for it. Thank god I've got P.O.S. next, get some good hip-hop in my system.

But first, Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

Monday, February 13, 2017

album review: 'i decided.' by big sean

I struggle to comprehend why people are fans of Big Sean.

That's not saying he doesn't have a few good songs - he does - or that he can't pull together a decent flow, because over the past two years he's proven he actually can. But if you're going to throw your weight and critical attention as a fan behind any rapper, I simply don't understand why you'd pick Big Sean over literally anyone else. Sure, a flow matters, but an excess of corny punchlines, his choice of beats that often are way heavier than he can convincingly back up, and he's been frequently outshone in personality and content by his guest stars. But it's not just that he's frequently a mediocre artist: he's an inessential artist. More often than not, even when he's at his best it's music that's passable and fills time, not that anyone is going to remember or care about or sing at karaoke in five years. Hell, even when I reviewed his big collaboration EP with Jhene Aiko TWENTY88 I got the impression that she'd rather be singing opposite Drake than him.

And so I couldn't help but feel a certain amount of poetic irony that the buzz going into this record was that Big Sean was looking to mimic the sound and style of Drake, specifically off of the project If You're Reading This It's Too Late back in 2015. Now I didn't really like that project - it wasn't really in Drake's wheelhouse as a performer, the style and flows never seemed to fit him comfortable - but hey, maybe Big Sean would be able to make something out of it, right?

video review: 'process' by sampha

Okay, that's the first review tonight... might delay the Big Sean review until tomorrow meaning, we'll see on timing. Stay tuned!

album review: 'process' by sampha

I didn't know what to expect going into this.

I mean, I knew a little about Sampha, I recognized the name, but the name of this English singer-songwriter-producer was never one that I had ever felt inclined to seek out on the benefit of guest performances alone. For one, I was first introduced to him through SBTRKT, where his vocals were frequently featured - and maybe it was just a really bad concert experience a year or so back, but I've never been all that fond of SBTRKT and I wasn't really blown away by what I'd heard from this guy. That hasn't stopped him from collaborating or working with some of the biggest and most critically acclaimed names in hip-hop and R&B - Drake, Kanye, FKA Twigs, and most recently a vocal contribution to Solange's last album that I remain less in love with seemingly everyone else. 

So when I heard this record was getting mountains of critical acclaim from a wide variety of sources - from those I respect like a few fellow YouTube critics to those I don't, which is rapidly including most other publications - I figured there was something to this guy's debut that caught people's ears, especially if the acclaim was this diverse. So I dug into that debut Process - what did I find?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

video review: 'all these countless nights' by deaf havana

Okay, I know it's not a good look to say that this caught me by surprise by how good it was... but yeah, I really dug this, a lot. Smart writing, great hooks, it stuck with me pretty effectively.

Next up, looks like Sampha and (sigh) Big Sean, so stay tuned!

Friday, February 10, 2017

album review: 'all these constant nights' by deaf havana

So I think I've gone on the record a number of times that I don't really care for post-hardcore music. It's not really my scene, the clash between screams and melodic singing can feel awkward and not always compliment the riffs, and I've also had the misfortune to see a lot of terrible bands come out of the genre as it mutated into something far uglier in the latter half of the 2000s and early 2010s. It wasn't my scene to begin with, and thus you can bet I had some extremely mixed feelings preparing myself for the English group Deaf Havana, particularly their 2009 debut that, hey, wouldn't you know, was produced by Matt O'Grady of You Me At Six, another group that I didn't really care for and yet would have never have covered if it wasn't for Patreon!

But then something happened - their screaming vocalist Ryan Mellor left the band for personal reasons after that first album, which resulted in a hard pivot towards pop punk and power pop. Their sound got rootsier along the way, and what resulted was a very Jimmy Eat World-esque stab at rock, only with more interesting and intricate guitarwork and tighter basslines, which I'd consider a net positive. And for once, critics agreed, throwing a fair amount of praise their way for that 2011 project Fools And Worthless Liars, which I actually happened to like a decent bit. The pivot and overwritten but earnest lyrics actually reminded me a little of Frank Turner in a good way - frontman James Veck-Gilodi didn't have that kind of charisma, but you could definitely see him on that path, especially as a songwriter on tracks like 'Hunstanton Pier'. Coupled with a penchant to take some borderline progressive instrumental risks - and how their third album Old Souls dove into even more rough-edged material, even pulling from soul and blues to augment an already strong power pop formula - I had a lot of reason to dig into All These Constant Nights and expect real quality. So did we get it?