Monday, March 25, 2019

video review: 'american football (2019)' by american football


So yeah, this won't get controversial, not one bit...

So not sure what might wind up next on the schedule after Billboard BREAKDOWN - could well be Resonators, given how my schedule is mutating - but stay tuned all the same!

album review: 'american football (2019)' by american football

I think there's a lot of people who forget that emo was a thing in the 90s.

Now granted, this was material I had to rediscover years later - I certainly wasn't that cool when I was eight or nine - but if you were in the right circles there was a vibrant reinvention going on after the genre kind of went quiet at the end of the 80s, and by the end of the 90s, the genre was on the cusp of a mainstream breakthrough... from a certain point of view. And that was the funny thing: for every band like Jimmy Eat World and The Get Up Kids and Dashboard Confessional actually moving units, there was still a thriving underground that was pushing the sound and scope of emo into more artistic directions, usually with inroads into the indie rock and college rock scenes. Many of these acts would lay the foundation for third-wave emo today... and in the midst of all of this in 1999, a band called American Football released a self-titled album. Now keep in mind that you could track the evolution and growth of emo just through certain members of the band - frontman Mike Kinsella was a founding member of Cap'n'Jazz who also put out one seminal full-length album before falling apart - but American Football was different if only because the ideas felt less organized, pulling from post-rock and free jazz and a windswept tone that lacked the immediacy of most midwestern emo, but remained as compelling. 

And as such, the alchemy was not built to last - after one album that was destined to become a cult classic, the band broke up and went on to various scattered directions both in and out of music... so fast forward to 2014, the self-titled album is reissued, and fans lose their shit, especially when there are hints that the band is reuniting. And to pretty much everyone's shock, not only did it happen they actually released an album in 2016, a second self-titled project right in the middle of the third-wave they inspired. And... well, it was good - not quite great but it never needed to be, a more rounded and accessible reunion that owes a little too much to Kinsella's long-running solo project Owen that had enough to hit the nostalgia centers of all the old fans of the first American Football album who settled down, got jobs, had kids, and put their yearning in the closet.

So I'd argue I was more surprised that American Football were putting out an album this year - it makes sense that the band would want to see more from their critical resurgence and a cult fanbase, but you can only milk nostalgia for so long. So with that in mind, what did we get from the third self-titled album from American Football?

Saturday, March 23, 2019

video review: 'chekhov's gun' by last sons


Yeah, I've been talking about this one all damn week, really happy it turned out as well as it did!

Next up... hmm, I'm thinking something a little brighter (so to speak) than this... stay tuned!

album review: 'chekhov's gun' by last sons

Let's talk about cosigns.

Because especially in recent years and with a shortened hype cycle, I'm always a little bit wary who an artist will support, either explicitly or implicitly... and I'll freely admit I do judge some acts by the people who sponsor them or they choose to sponsor - and in today's day and age, it seems like the list of disappointments keeps piling up. Yeah, in an attention economy, one's word tends to matter more than some think.

But in the case of an artist who moves with integrity, I'm inclined to give them a bit more space and benefit of the doubt, so let's talk again about Uncommon Nasa, a New York underground hip-hop artist who has made my year-end lists multiple times and has delivered some phenomenal records both as a writer and producer. So when he approached me about a project he entirely produced for a new group called Last Sons, featuring UK rapper Duke01 and DJ Furious P, I was intrigued, especially considering how his production style has evolved and thus far he has not put his name or word behind a bad artist - and when you count how many guests he had on 2017's Written At Night, that says a lot. And I reference that project because that's where I got my first taste of these guys on the song 'Small Change', which was a great song and I had to hope they'd deliver here, so what did we get on Chekhov's Gun?

video review: 'it's real' by ex hex


So I've had this for a few days... and I wish it was better. Still good, but after such a long wait, I really wanted this to be great.

Ah well - next up should be something I've been waiting to review all week, so stay tuned!

Friday, March 22, 2019

album review: 'it's real' by ex hex

...you know, it's going to be a cheap tagline repeated by many fans and critics following this group upon hearing that the album is dropping, but it's true: somehow it's real, we're getting another Ex Hex album!

Now for those of you out of the loop, Ex Hex is a scuzzy, garage-leaning, almost punk indie rock act fronted by Mary Timony, who you might know from Helium or especially in recent years from her involvement in Wild Flag, an all-too-brief project fronted by Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney that put out one project and then folded when Sleater-Kinney reformed. And honestly, I thought a similar fate was going to crop up for Ex Hex - Mary Timony pulled up Betsy Wright on bass and Laura Harris on drums and cut together a straightforward but critically adored album called Rips in 2014. Now I did review it five years ago, and while I was a bit cooler on it than most - Timony never quite wowed me as a frontwoman and there were some rough patches in the production - the hooks were phenomenal and the writing was great, which led the project to maintain some solid replay value as just a great three-piece rock act. But it's been five years - you'd think the group would strike when the iron was hot, especially with the critical acclaim, but we finally got a follow-up - so what did Ex Hex deliver on It's Real?

Thursday, March 21, 2019

video review: 'traveling mercies' by emily scott robinson


Okay, so this was absolutely fantastic and you all need to hear it yesterday. Kind of out of nowhere surprise for me, but that's the wonderful thing about it!

Anyway, next up will probably be hip-hop (presuming it all comes through properly), so stay tuned!

album review: 'traveling mercies' by emily scott robinson

So I'll admit this came out of nowhere for me.

And I think that's somewhat important to call out, because everyone loves to say they're ahead of the curve and they found an act from the indie scene that nobody's ever heard of, and while you might get the occasional quote from more traditional outlets, you can quickly tell by traction in other lanes how much people really know about you. But I'll freely admit that wasn't really aware of North Carolina's Emily Scott Robinson from any outlet before recently: I saw the rave review for her newest project from Saving Country Music, I got curious knowing exactly rare said reviews are, and I figured I'd check out her debut to get some perspective...

And I was left blown away. Yes, 2016's Magnolia Queen is very much a spare and acoustic affair, a little rough around the edges both in playing and her vocal delivery - although she does have a great voice - what astonished me was the songwriting. In terms of structured poetry, detail, and nuance to craft vivid and often heartwrenching stories, the closest immediate comparison I made was Lori McKenna - and that's not a comparison I make lightly. And it's not a straightforward imitation either - Robinson's writing is rougher and a lot darker, not flinching away from the small town failures and vices that can consume both her protagonists and their hapless partners - age hasn't sanded back or refined her edges, and considering the dark, challenging moments have always what I've liked the most from McKenna, this spoke volumes. In other words, when I heard that the album this year was more refined and polished - handily making its Kickstarter goal, I should add - I had the feeling we could be in for one of the best country projects of 2019, so what did we get from Traveling Mercies?

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 23, 2019 (VIDEO)


So yeah, this took a bit longer this evening than I was anticipating (I had RL work stuff along with a spur-of-the-moment choice to do my taxes), but it's here regardless. Kind of underwhelming, but what can you do.

Next up... well, it might take a day or two, depending on when the data I need comes in, but I think we're going to stay in hip-hop - stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 23, 2019

So this week surprised me - a lot. I was gearing up for a Juice WRLD album bomb that would make my life miserable, and to my amazement that didn't happen. In fact, we got a pretty average week on Billboard BREAKDOWN, where Juice WRLD did make an impact but nowhere close to what I was predicting, and that leads me to questions about his label and management I didn't expect I'd have. Hell, I knew the kid had a short shelf-life, but I didn't expect Interscope mismanagement to be the biggest contributing factor, I thought the album just being crap would have done enough!

Monday, March 18, 2019

video review: 'a long red hot los angeles summer night' by blu & oh no


Another review for which I'm a bit late to the punch, but I still think it turned out okay.

Next up, we might just stay with indie hip-hop or do a subtle switch-up - stay tuned all the same!

album review: 'a long red hot los angeles summer night' by blu & oh no

You ever have those rappers where for as much you like them they frustrate the hell out of you, an artist you know is fully capable of delivering brilliance but can meander down weird paths that are far less potent than they should be.

Yeah, unsurprising to anyone Blu is in that camp for me - and to some extent, given his comprehensive discography and array of collaborations, I'd argue at this point the biggest issue is quality control. Because when Blu is focused and chooses to refine a project, we get near-classics like Below The Heavens with stellar production and really potent rapping. On the flip side, for as great of a rapper as Blu is with a taste for weirder production, the fact that he doesn't have more projects I'd consider classics is alarming, especially when said production feels compromised or messy and from people you'd expect better. As much as I still like 2014's Good To Be Home and some of his scattered EPs, I can't deny a few of the mixing and mastering questions, and I stand behind the criticisms I had of 2015's Bad Neighbor with M.E.D. and Madlib - I'm still a little in awe that Madlib delivered such a slapdash project, he's a much better producer than that project indicates. Granted, there's been rumors that Blu's relationship with Madlib has been contentious for years so who the hell knows what might have gone on behind the scenes - but when I heard that Blu was teaming up with producer Oh No and had won back some critical acclaim with another 'back-to-basics' project, I was reassured. Hell, people were saying that Good To Be Home was a trial run in comparison with this, so let's not waste time: what did we get from A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

video review: 'GREY area' by little simz


Yeah, this review probably should have been out last week if not earlier - real struggle with how I felt on it, to be honest.

But while I'm on the subject of hip-hop...

album review: 'GREY area' by little simz

I always feel a little out of my element talking about UK hip-hop, be it grime or otherwise. Now I'm fairly certain some of that is obvious in the few reviews where I've discussed the genre, but I'll freely admit some of it comes from just not having the same connections or context to speak on an artist who is building serious traction, and so when I started hearing that Little Simz was racking up some serious critical acclaim for her third album, I was dejectedly preparing myself for another act I'd appreciate but likely not love to the same degree as fans across the pond.

And that didn't happen with Islington MC Little Simz. Yeah, colour me intrigued, but in checking out her 2015 debut album A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons, I found a lot that really gripped me, from her strident and assertive delivery, a commitment to real hooks and bars that managed to bring in a lot of striking insight, and production that hit the balance between icy and catchy as sin to pull me in. And while I was a little less enthused with 2016's Stillness In Wonderland - despite a fantastic stretch of great tunes midway through it does meander a little more than it should and not all the experimentation connects - hearing that GREY Area was her most focused and hard-hitting project to date and seeing real acclaim from hip-hop heads from both the U.K. and stateside alike made me want to find time to check this out, so what did we get?

Friday, March 15, 2019

video review: 'girl with basket of fruit' by xiu xiu


So apparently I need to really step up my game when it comes to cross-posting, because apparently the algorithm cares about that... /sigh

Anyway, this album didn't really wow me as much as I was hoping - eh, it happens, but what to cover next...

album review: 'girl with basket of fruit' by xiu xiu

Well, it's about time I finally got to this. And here's where we also need some backstory - at the start of February on Twitter I participated in a writing exercise called, appropriately, Music Writing Exercise, or #MWE. And for me it was a cute little side project for me to knock out some quips surrounding back catalogs I was covering alongside my regular reviews, and I figured that given that Xiu Xiu had been one of the most glaring holes in my musical knowledge, I'd listen to their entire discography for #MWE and so I could review their newest, critically divisive project. And...

Well, it's complicated - but also not nearly as much as I was expecting, because Xiu Xiu has put out a lot of wiry, abrasive provocation for its time. Now there are some absolutely great albums and you can definitely hear their influence across plenty of experimental acts, especially the ones with more of a focus on queer sexuality and especially Perfume Genius, but in hearing the discography as a whole it's easy to get burned out on shock tactics, or notice when the group isn't playing to their strengths. For one, I've always been convinced that they've had a knack for striking pop melodies and high concept ideas that rarely get the credit or analysis they deserve - mostly because it's way easier to focus on the profanity and explicit content and sheer noise - but at the same time there are stretches in that discography that seem to be coasting on airs, especially when they bring in a delicacy that feels undercomposed, and that's not counting when the great ideas don't quite stick the landing. And while singer-songwriter Jamie Stewart is a potent mastermind behind the project, if you have a keen ear you can very much tell how and where his sound is inspired and shaped, which can put a damper both on the provocation and the "unique, boundary-pushing experimentation", and that's not getting to the points where Xiu Xiu recycles old material and ideas a little too readily. But still, they ditched John Congleton's production this time around and with the subject matter surrounding female martyrdom... well, why not dive headfirst into some transgressive art, so what did we get from Girl With Basket Of Fruit?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

video review: 'sucker punch' by sigrid


Okay, this was a lot of fun... really enjoyed it, glad y'all pointed me to it.

But now onto a much uglier conversation - stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

album review: 'sucker punch' by sigrid

You know, sometimes I get the feeling that some of you pay a little too much attention to my content. And of course I'm not going to complain that much - appreciate the attention, turn on notifications and all that, would prefer to hear it from you than plenty of others - sometimes you're attentive enough that I wind up eating my words.

So Sigrid: young Norwegian pop singer-songwriter signed to Island, and much to my surprise, I had talked about her song 'Strangers' last year around this time on a slow week of Billboard BREAKDOWN as one of my World Hits. And I liked what I heard: some blaring synthpop with a fair bit of intensity and smart songwriting, it was the sort of song that was very easy for me to like as a critic, to the point where I said when her debut album dropped, I'd be happy to cover it... and then like most episodes of Billboard BREAKDOWN, I promptly forgot all about it until you guys started reminding me. And this isn't anything against her, let me stress this - I listen to a ton of music, stuff falls through the cracks, and for pop, you can definitely tell Sigrid is relying more on good writing and sharp composition than flash, and an unfortunate side effect of that is you can lose track of songs and artists. More to the point - and this is a warning sign that labels especially in the U.K. are trying to milk as many singles as possible without a ton of faith in the album - the first Sigrid songs packaged onto Sucker Punch were released as early as February 2017. That was concerning to me... but I did say I was going to cover this and I'm a man of my word, even as I'm still struggling to put my finger on why that Little Simz album isn't quite clicking the way it should. So okay, what did I get from Sucker Punch?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 16, 2019 (VIDEO)


Okay, a little late, but here we go - think this turned out rather well, still trying to fiddle with the lights (not sure I quite got the blue the way I waned on camera, but trial and error).

Anyway, the Little Simz album might require a bit more time to properly digest, so I've got something in the mean time - stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 16, 2019

So look, it's hard for me to get that enthused for whatever's here this week, I'll be straight with you. Even despite how hard I panned the album, I'd put money that Juice WRLD is coming for an album bomb next week with streaming alone, and that means I can't guarantee what in this week will actually hold traction. And given that outside of new arrivals this week seems fairly steady, that question feels more wide open than ever.