Sunday, January 20, 2019

video review: 'future hndrxx presents: the WIZRD' by future

Honestly, I probably should have known better than to cover this... but eh, live and learn, right?

Okay, next up... see, I took a poll on Twitter and folks selected KONGOS... but that album is leaving me in a weird spot and I'm not sure how viable it'll be for a full review, we'll see. Stay tuned!

album review: 'future hndrxx presents: the WIZRD' by future

So I skipped reviewing Future's twin album release in 2017. 

In fact, I've skipped covering a lot of Future's albums and mixtapes since I reviewed Dirty Sprite 2 in 2015 - three albums and five mixtapes, as a matter of fact - mostly because I know that a significant chunk of them will wind up on Billboard BREAKDOWN, but the principle remains. Think about that for a second: Future has put out eight projects that have had charting presence on the Hot 100 in three years - even by Drake standards, that's the sort of flood of content that runs the very real risk of flooding the market, especially if they don't have moments that really stand out or feel distinctive, and how often has that really happened?

And I'm deadly serious about this, because you can burn out an audience by giving them too much material too quickly - flooding the market only can work if you can wring out enough hits or distinctive moments to stand out. And more than ever I'm getting the impression that Future is hitting diminishing returns with every project he's pushed out - you can only take so much empty flexing, dead-eyed nihilism, and swamped out trap beats with Future's half-formed croon-rapping before you ask for something more, especially when they don't play to the pitch-black darkness and rage that gave Future his strongest cuts.

So why cover this now? Well, from the extensive round of interviews Future has put out, it seems like not only is he the most clear-headed he's been in a long time, he's also showing a surprising amount of introspection. He's seen the depressant-soaked landscape of modern trap and was afraid to admit he quit lean a while ago in fears of losing an audience who is accustomed to it, and while I can't speak to how well the possible album bomb will hit, underwhelming lead-off singles from a quick rollout for another long album give me the impression even Future's diehard fans are starting to move on - bad news for a rapper who has coasted on a limited skillset and dimensionality. So might as well get ground-level seats for what Future manages to extract from this, whether we get a late-game shot of quality and maturity or whether disaster is eminent, so what did we get from The WIZRD?

the top 50 best songs of 2018 (VIDEO)

Honestly, I forgot to post both the videos here, but I'm generally pleased with how all of this came together. Hope y'all enjoy!

video review: 'outer peace' by toro y moi

Ehh... I've had this one for a while, still not all that much of a fan. It's decent, but I'm not going to remember much of this.

Next up... let's get Future out of the way...

video review: 'why hasn't everything already disappeared?' by deerhunter

And here we go... man, this was a mess. Enjoy?

Saturday, January 19, 2019

album review: 'outer peace' by toro y moi

...I remember the last time I talked about chillwave, back in 2015 when I reviewed Neon Indian - and that's saying something because I'm getting the impression that whole genre designation is something music critics nowadays want to forget ever happened.

See, there's a phenomenon especially among music critics and writers to apply genre branding to sounds for quick categorization, especially if it was a trend on the rise. This seemed to hit its peak in the blog-and-Pitchfork dominated era of the late-2000s and very early 2010s, mostly to the indifference and distaste of the artists or indeed anyone besides music writers. And looking back on it now, it's hard to ignore how manufactured it felt - not an organic label by the artists, who had approached their gauzy blend of shoegaze, lo-fi synthpop, ambient, and psychedelia with a variety of different tones and styles, but a branding that soon led to a saturated market and a broad misunderstanding of how anyone was to approach it. And I want to use Toro y Moi - stagename for Chaz Bear - as an example against easy classification... mostly because while his initial tones might have started in that loose subgenre, he didn't stay there. A few albums in he was expanding into house music, by 2015 he was pulling on that jangling 80s indie rock sound, and he had always had a taste for funk, choppy hip-hop-esque samples and a crooning that owed a considerable debt to indie R&B. So yeah, Toro y Moi was really tough to categorize...

And man, I wish I liked it more. Again, like most genre-hopping bands with this pedigree there were a number of things that just did not work for me, and ironically they started with the opposite problem I had with Neon Indian, in that I liked the gummy, lo-fi chillwave touches in the production that felt more like accent texture than drowning the mix. But the further he stepped away from it, the less interesting the music became. Part of this was increasingly easy parallels to better acts, but with Toro y Moi's voice moving more to the forefront, the undercooked writing and odd feeling of petulance really started to wear on my patience, especially as the albums got longer with less momentum. Granted, when I heard this album was going even more synthetic and taking more steps towards funk I was intrigued, but I've had mixed luck with this brand of funk and I wasn't sure the trappings of chillwave are what I needed to make it work, but what the hell: how is Outer Peace?

Friday, January 18, 2019

album review: 'why hasn't everything already disappeared?' by deerhunter

So it's been a very long time since I talked about Deerhunter, at least on this channel in a formal review - I discussed Monomania in the very early days of my channel, but when it came to Fading Frontier in 2015, I actually teamed up with the Indieheads podcast to discuss the album at length... and yet somehow I wound up as the guy who was the stick in the mud who didn't really care much for the album.

And what's frustrating is that whenever I've listened to a Deerhunter album in recent years, I've come away with the understanding of exactly why a lot of critics adore this band... and yet it never clicks as well as so many of their peers. Don't get me wrong, there are projects in their back catalog I enjoy, but I struggle to put any of their albums on a pedestal in any respective year - Halcyon Digest might get close, but even then it's dicey. And what's exasperating is that it's never just been one thing: the most consistent frustration probably comes with frontman Bradford Cox's improvised song construction and persistently underwhelming nihilism, but when you factor in distinct production and tonal inconsistencies, it leaves me never quite liking or disliking a Deerhunter album in the same way. And coming off of Fading Frontier... look, it's not bad, but revisiting it highlights a lot of repeated lyrical issues from earlier albums and the more placid tone and instrumentation continues to show how that brand of mid-to-late-80s Americana has been done better elsewhere by a lot of acts in recent years. That said, I was curious about this new project, as buzz was suggesting more elaborate instrumentation could make this Deerhunter's answer to The National's High Violet - a comparison of which I was immediately skeptical because say what you will about that band, Matt Berninger can write cohesive songs and outside of their last album has consistently great production. But fine, I can appreciate more ambition, so what did we get from Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?

video review: 'love train 2' by asiahn

And here we go - really damn good little project, definitely deserves to get Asiahn more attention.

And next up... yeah, let's deal with the controversy now...

Thursday, January 17, 2019

album review: 'love train 2' by asiahn

So I'm in a bit of a funny place with R&B right now, especially the stuff that's more mainstream-accessible - namely that I get the impression that the more sensual tones are due for a subtle shakeup, both in tone and the artists involved. And while I'll wholeheartedly admit a big part of this is me waiting for the inevitable Jhene Aiko breakup album that tears into Big Sean, part of it is linked to how pleasantly surprised I was with Mariah Carey's last album and how indifferent I've been feeling with Ariana Grande recently - mostly because I'm surprised at the relative lack of competition! Hell, last year we got some spicy takes surrounding who the 'king of R&B' is prompted by Jacquees of all people, why does it seem like the modern era of queens are ceding the crown to Ariana so quickly?

And while I could make a bunch of excuses - SZA is between albums, Ella Mai is just starting out and doesn't quite have the pipes, H.E.R., Alina Baraz and Kali Uchis are still underground, Teyana Taylor got screwed by Kanye, Janelle Monae is too weird and amazing to even be a part of the conversation, and I don't even want to get into Tinashe right now - the truth is that a lot of major labels are losing money by not capitalizing on that lack of competition. So I'm stuck going into the underground to find those artists with the chops to compete - and early in 2019, I actually found one. Meet Asiahn, a singer-songwriter who also goes by Asia Bryant who you might recognize if you dig through the liner notes behind some pretty sizable acts, but she started coming into her own with the release of the Love Train EP back in early 2017. And going back to it now, I'll admit I'm a little surprised she didn't get more traction - thanks to her work behind the scenes she's racked up a few Grammy nominations, but more than that, her debut EP is actually really good! I'd struggle to call it precisely great - a stunningly subtle voice and solid lyricism can only get you so far if your production and hooks aren't the sharpest - but she had a lot of taste and potential and I had hope for this full-length follow-up, so what did we get out of Love Train 2?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 19, 2019 (VIDEO)

I really need to be better at posting these things on a timely basis... 

Anyway, going to be deviating from my schedule a bit, I think - this new R&B album I found might deserve a review, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 19, 2019

...well, okay, I can't say I didn't predict this would happen. I knew that eventually the drought on mainstream album releases would start to impact the Hot 100 directly which would lead to a short week... but man, I didn't expect I'd be handed one of the slowest weeks in recent memory! Now I'm not complaining - gives me that much more time to get ahead on other work and plans, and, you know, take care of myself - but I will say it was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Less so when I saw the new arrivals, but sadly you have to take what you can get.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

video review: 'prehysteria' by t-rextasy

So I honestly don't expect this band to get a ton of traffic thanks to this review - hell, I don't expect this review to get a lot of traffic - but it's a goofy and fun little project, definitely worth a listen!

album review: 'prehysteria' by t-rextasy

So one of my plans for 2019 was getting a bit more freedom to venture into weird places to find new music, and given how slow things are starting this year, it's a good time to build a nice routine in finding it. And nowhere is more overstuffed with offkilter weirdness than Bandcamp and talk about the sort of act that immediately becomes tricky to talk about, mostly because they defy easy categorization.

So yes, let's talk about T-Rextasy, a New York-based punk group that broke out in the mid-2010s with their debut Jurassic Punk - and if by some of those names you might be thinking we're dealing with a joke act... well, I could definitely see it, but I'm not sure I'd entirely agree. It's definitely true that this group has a broad, cartoonish blend of vintage garage rock and art punk, splitting the difference between twee and riot grrl so subtly you might be convinced neither are truly applicable, and all delivered with a bratty yet comedic theatricality that at its best can feel wry and clever but at its worst can feel like Brooklyn hipster community theater that's both grating and entirely too impressed with itself. What I am stressing is that this sound can be very niche, especially given the thick accent of Lyris Faron... but it's certainly catchy and colourful, and I enjoyed their debut album enough to check out their follow-up Prehysteria, so what did we get?

video review: 'magnolia' by randy houser

So I have no goddamn clue where this came from, but it's awesome - go hear it, I want this to be a hit, goddamn it.

Next up, let's go to Bandcamp for something that emphatically will not be a hit, shall we...

Saturday, January 12, 2019

album review: 'magnolia' by randy houser

You know, it feels a little weird that this the first time I'm speaking at length about Randy Houser - but also not all that surprising if you've been aware of the mainstream country ecosystem outside of the biggest stars. And indeed, Randy Houser has been a prominent opening act for many of those stars over the past decade with a fair few hits of his own, so what is holding him back from the big leagues?

Well, in preparation for this I relistened to his entire back catalog and the first thing to note is that as a performer and presence within country, he's long been on the cusp of entering that category - hell, if you just listen to his tremendous vocal chops, you'd think he'd already be there. And like many aspiring acts, he worked behind the scenes as a songwriter in the mid-to-late 2000s... and the less said about some of his breakthrough writing credits, the better. But he accrued some solid writing credits for his second album on Toby Keith's Show Dog-Universal which translated to a pretty good album in They Call Me Cadillac... that went precisely nowhere, so he left and signed to Stoney Creek and began seeing real success in the 2013 bro-country wave. And I'll put Randy Houser in the same category as guys like Chris Young: a little older, presumably a little wiser, able to bring a shade more gravitas to otherwise pretty disposable lyrics in the trend, generally a cut above if not precisely great. But bro-country was never built to last, and while the full force of it was placed behind his 2016 album Fired Up, it only produced one hit and only exposed the larger conundrum with Houser: a great singer, sure, but if the compositions and production weren't there to provide him foundation or richer country tones, it didn't turn out well. I'll give him a few points for avoiding the forgettable pop-adjacent pablum that Chris Young started shoveling out, but I'll admit some concern about this newest project. For one, it had been pushed back from its November release date last year, and for another, while I did appreciate Houser taking a much greater role in the writing process, I was a bit concerned he was co-producing this project too, a first for him and reportedly paid for by him too so could ensure the sound he wanted. Thankfully, he had recruited his old collaborator and veteran of both mainstream and indie scenes Keith Gattis to assist - seriously, he's worked with everyone from George Strait to Randy Travis, Wade Bowen to Jon Pardi, all the Pistol Annies to Brandy Clark - so this could be the pivot that Randy Houser needs to stand out, so what did we get with Magnolia?

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 12, 2019 (VIDEO)

Man alive, this took so damn long to finish... oh well, let's see what I can do next - stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 12, 2019

So this is one of those weeks on Billboard BREAKDOWN that can be draining to talk about, mostly because it's easy but time-consuming to explain at length. To put it simply, if you look at the Hot 100 a full half of it advanced ten positions or more, we have a ton of returning entries, and a full slate of fourteen new arrivals - and no, there wasn't an album bomb. No, as I said, I can explain this fairly easily: along with the album bomb from 21 Savage drying up, all the Christmas music exited the chart and a lot of older music this week picked up radio spins thanks to year-end countdowns, and given that there was no big releases to plug in the gap, the flood of music to replace it is all over the damn place and really shows no indication of what could last long term.