Wednesday, August 23, 2017

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

Yeah, not exactly my most popular episodes, filmed from the road with no script and a bit more bluntness and camera movement, but this turned out alright enough, I think. Enjoy!

album review: 'to the bone' by steven wilson / 'feed the machine' by nickelback / 'vista' by hell or highwater / 'poison the parish' by seether (VACATION SERIES!)

Four in one, and it won't be the only it happens. Stay tuned for more!

Monday, August 21, 2017

video review: 'known unknowns' by billy woods

So yeah, much later than I expected, but still worth talking about. Beyond that... well, I'm on vacation now, so let's bundle a couple reviews together for the next video, a few old and one new... stay tuned!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

album review: 'known unknowns' by billy woods

Well, it's about damn time I got to this, an artist I referenced in my last hip-hop review and who some have told me has dropped one of the stronger projects this year... and I have to say, it's taken me a while to really get to billy woods.

So, here's some context: he's a New York MC, he founded his own label Backwoodz Studioz, he's been putting out albums since the early-to-mid 2000s, but really started to hit a potent creative stride in the early 2010s, both on his own and as a member of the duo Armand Hammer with frequent collaborator Elucid - who I'll also probably end up covering at some point this year, given his critical acclaim. And that's important to note: if we're looking at New York hip-hop artists who are pushing and challenging the sound in the vein of what Def Jux did fifteen years ago, I'd definitely put Billy Woods on that list in a similar way I would Uncommon Nasa - the bars a little more direct here but no less thought-provoking, and often times over even more challenging production on records like History Will Absolve Me.

And yet, if I'm being brutally honest, I've struggled to completely embrace a billy woods project as a whole. Some of his songs can tilt around rap cliches, but a larger issue I found on his 2015 project Today, I Wrote Nothing was a certain scattershot nature of a lot of tracks, potent in snippets but nearly always leading to projects that felt too long and not quite coalescing as a whole, at least for me. Which was frustrating because between his blunt and curt style of delivery and some challenging and experimental production, this is the sort of rapper I'd love to wholeheartedly get behind, and with the continued stream of critical acclaim for his newest record Known Unknowns, I was hoping this could be the one to do it for me. So, what I did find?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

video review: 'woodstock' by portugal. the man

About time I got to this, especially given the peculiar story I have surrounding it.

And on that note...

album review: 'woodstock' by portugal. the man

Oh, this is awkward - mostly because if you had told me a few months ago I was going to be putting together this particular review under these circumstances, I would have called you crazy, and yet...

Okay, let me back up. A couple months ago, I was actually contacted by Portugal. The Man and their management to produce a video where I could give a 'review' of one of their upcoming songs for their new album Woodstock, that they would use in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way in their promotional material. Now I know a bunch of critics I like and respect contributed to this, but I didn't for three main reasons: one, it felt perilously close to something that might compromise my critical ethics and I'd prefer to be safe than sorry; two, if I had done that video I'd feel obliged to cover the record and I'd prefer to use my schedule additions for records I had a vested interest in reviewing; and finally, it's a Portugal. The Man record, who the hell was going to care? 

Yeah, I know, in retrospect now it feels a bit dismissive, but Portugal. The Man has never been an indie rock act I've ever had interest in. They've never been a huge critical darling as they flirted with electronic and psychedelic textures, and I personally am not a huge fan of frontman John Gourley's vocals or songwriting, but I wouldn't begrudge anybody being a fan of the group. They were fine enough, I guess, but I never found them interesting enough to pursue more, especially once they signed to Atlantic and brought Brian Burton behind the production boards - and if you've seen my reviews talking about Burton's production over the past few years, you'd understand why. And then 'Feel It Still' broke the top 40 and topped the rock charts and suddenly over a decade into their career Portugal. The Man actually had a bonafide hit! It's a weird feeling seeing that and realizing you could have been part of their promotional effort, but now I at least understand why so many people want me to cover this, so let's give 'em what they want: what did we find with Woodstock?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 26, 2017 (VIDEO)

So yeah, pretty lousy week, but it was a pretty easy one to put together, so I guess I'll take it?

Anyway, time to take care of some old business - stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

video review: 'oh, yuck' by so much light

Look, sometimes you have to call a spade a spade, and this guy might just not be my thing. Eh, it happens.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN and something I probably should have covered two months ago... stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 26, 2017

Man, I'm happy this is a more reasonable week on the Hot 100 here, given how crazy my schedule is right now. And when I say reasonable, I mean that very little actually seemed to make big moves, we have a modest list of expected new arrivals, and while there is some action in the top 10 worth talking about, we're at the point where things are on the cusp of really breaking open.

Monday, August 14, 2017

album review: 'oh, yuck' by so much light

So I'm sure at this point many of you have seen a certain piece of bad writing at The Atlantic making the rounds with a particularly ugly clickbait title called 'Progressive Rock Is The Whitest Music Ever'. And yeah, the article lives down to the title, the sort of piece that reflects an uncanny lack of knowledge surrounding the genre and really a general disinterest in writing about it altogether. But aside from an easy opportunity to bag on awful music journalism, the article did get me thinking why people dislike the genre, because there are some points in calling out prog for its pretentiousness wankery, its underweight concept record with bloated orchestration, and complexity for its own sake.

Here's my point: there is a genre of music where this sort of thing bothers me... and progressive rock and metal is not really that genre. No, it's the more obscure and for me much more frustrating genre of math rock, known for complex time signatures and rigidly over-designed melodic and rhythm sections. And with less of a focus on lyricism, you can bet that I'm not really a fan - but it's also a relatively obscure subgenre and people don't tend to request it...

Until today, which takes us to So Much Light, a Sacramento-based project for Damien Verrett where on first listen you could definitely see traces of math rock in the complex, shifting time signatures and knotted melodies of his debut Supine/Spellbound in 2012. But the overall genre of the music proved to be tougher to follow: anchored almost entirely in acoustic guitar and with a pretty impressive backing list of musicians to flesh out the sound, it'd be easier to slot this towards acoustic-leaning indie rock... and then you get our frontman with a remarkably timid and thin vocal delivery and lyrics that would not be far removed from the weirder side of emo. So I'll be blunt and say I wasn't crazy about that debut at all - a couple fascinating arrangements, but little else that gripped me... but we would not see another full-length So Much Light record for another five years - an EP in 2015 and a few scattered singles, but then he signed to ANTI- and we now have a follow-up called Oh, Yuck. So okay, how did it turn out?

video review: 'rainbow' by kesha

Well, this was pretty great. Yeah, like most people I wish this was a tad better overall, but still, pretty terrific all the same.

Can't really say the same about the next record up here... stay tuned!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

album review: 'rainbow' by kesha

Man, it's nice to talk about the music for once, isn't it? Hell, it's nice that there actually is music this time, right? And indeed, there was a part of me that deep down was convinced this record would never happen, that the horrendous legal nightmare and label drama would prevent us from ever getting a third record from Kesha, but now that it has actually been released, I think there's some housecleaning that's in order, especially surrounding how so many would love to say they've been on Kesha's side since the beginning and have always loved her work, that Animal was underappreciated for its time and that Cannibal was even better and that Warrior never got the chance it deserved...

And it's at this point where I have to drop the hard stop on music critic historical revisionism, because while the mainstream public might not have been paying close attention, I sure as hell was - mostly because of my own more complicated relationship with Kesha's music. I'll be the first to admit that I didn't like the singles from Animal back in 2010 and I found her entire persona kind of obnoxious, and it wasn't until a year later when I went into that album and Cannibal in-depth - and while I will say both are more uneven than you remember, there were the hints of satirical depth, lyrical nuance and genuine pipes that for some reason Kesha's handlers didn't think the mainstream public wanted to hear. That takes us to Warrior in 2012, a record with a notoriously troubled production and was arguably crippled out of the gate thanks to sloppy promotion and horrible single choices - watch the Special Comments, I've touched on this before - but it was also the sign that Kesha was bucking against her producers and label more than ever, and that Warrior still wound up as one of my favourite records of 2012 is a testament to its craftsmanship and personality. But the public and the majority of critics didn't see that, instead focusing on the one-dimensional party girl treading water who needed a horrible guest verse from to seem relevant. And to see a lot of folks now retroactively getting onboard given the legal ordeal and a desire to be seen on the right side of music history without knowing the artistic variety and depths and incredible live show that were in plain sight all along if they had bothered to look - it reeked of cheap revisionist cynicism, especially when it seemed like, again, the music was getting pushed out of the picture.

But again, the album is finally here, and if I'm going to be very honest, I was optimistic but cautious about this record. I was all for Kesha taking a greater lead in writing and production, pushing her sound into even weirder and rougher territory leaning on rock and country, but I was worried the 'redemptive comeback' story would overwhelm the weirder elements in composition and songwriting that I've always found to be one of Kesha's best weapons. But then again, if anyone has earned the right to make a record focused on that redemptive arc it's Kesha, and she's a smart enough songwriter to challenge conventions and expectations, so at the end of the day what did we find on Rainbow?

video review: 'written at night' by uncommon nasa

Yeah, this record has really stuck with me thus far - in a year where I haven't been all that impressed by a lot of hip-hop, this one is worth your time, trust me on that.

But now on to the event that so many have wanted to see... well, stay tuned!

Friday, August 11, 2017

album review: 'written at night' by uncommon nasa

So I haven't exactly been quiet in saying that I haven't heard a lot of hip-hop in 2017 that I'm absolutely crazy about - hell, if you saw my midyear review, you'd know that the highest rap record on that list was technically dropped late in 2016 but because the physical release came out in 2017 I'm counting it there anyway so it'll at least be eligible for year-end lists in my books.

But maybe I'm missing part of the picture - because of the way my Patreon schedule is set up, I can only get to so much, and maybe truly great records aren't being requested just yet, or I just haven't had a chance to hear them. And from what Uncommon Nasa has mentioned on Twitter to me, that might be very much the case - and the funny thing is that he's modest enough not to include his own record in that accounting! But make no mistake, I was excited for this one - a veteran New York MC and producer who has been behind more critically acclaimed records than you might remember, he landed an entry on my top 25 albums of 2015 with Halfway and for damn good reason too. His production might be challenging, his rapping style might be thorny and dense, but once you were able to decode his more abstract concepts you were left with a highly rewarding and cerebral rap record. And while I didn't quite love his collaboration with Short Fuze Autonomy Music in the same way, I was definitely excited about Written At Night. Entirely self-produced with guest verses from Oh No, Open Mike Eagle, Billy Woods, Quelle Chris and more, this was one of my most anticipated hip-hop records of 2017, easily - so what did I untangle here?

video review: 'paul' by eric taxxon

And this was a nice welcome surprise - very niche and underground, but welcome all the same, you should definitely hear it.

And speaking of underground...

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

album review: 'paul' by eric taxxon

So those of you who have been watching since earlier this year probably remember me covering Eric Taxxon, an independent electronic and synthpop producer who has a reputation for putting out a lot of homegrown but remarkably catchy and varied projects within a year, touching everything from chirpy, lo-fi synthpop to plunderphonics and ambient experiments.

Well, guess who is back with a new project - which yes, I'm a bit late to the punch covering, but the fact that my patrons were as willing as they were to vote on it was kind of promising, especially as Taxxon still is very much underground in terms of music critic coverage. And in contrast to the wild experimentation of his career thus far, this album Paul looked to be doubling down on and refining the synthpop sound of his last record The Anthill, with even a few tracks that might even hint towards greater accessibility. And yes, normally that'd throw up a red flag for me but again, very much underground and if Taxxon was going to use that focus to further purify already strong melodic progressions, I was excited about what this could bring. So no more wasting time, what did we find with Paul?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 19, 2017 (VIDEO)

And here's an especially long episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN... man, this took a while to put together, as they always do...

But still not all tonight, stay tuned!

video review: 'the autobiography' by vic mensa

So now time for a bit of a posting spree, and we'll start off with a record that I didn't mind, but I wish I liked - or remembered - a lot more than I do here. Ah well, it happens.

But that's not all tonight...

movie review: 'dunkirk' (VIDEO)

Yeah, I know, I got to this one late, but it was definitely worth the discussion, at least in my view. Enjoy!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 19, 2017

It's never the album bomb weeks that are actually interesting - it's the weeks that come after, the fallout period where you see the headlong rush to plug the holes. And considering the summer music season tends to have a dry spell in album releases, this is the time where songs that might not otherwise crossover have a shot for some traction, where the weird or strange stuff might bubble up.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

album review: 'the autobiography' by vic mensa

You know, for as much as I've talked about the hip-hop scene in Chicago, I'm a little amazed it has taken me this long to talk about Vic Mensa. 

Well, okay, not that amazed, as his career trajectory has taken a couple odd turns over the past five years since his breakthrough mixtape Innanetape. That got him the attention of Jay-Z and Kanye, who loved his peculiar way of bending rhymes with honest subject matter that could be tempered towards the mainstream. And yet it took until 2016 for us to get a solid EP project out of Vic Mensa... and the reception to it was mixed. And going back to the project I can see why: on the one hand you had Vic Mensa as an MC who was unafraid to get very political and speak with candor about his own struggles with fame with remarkably honest framing... and yet he also had a bad tendency to slip towards mindless mainstream junk with weakly sung hooks and sloppy bars, which gave the impression of squandering potential. And while I did respect There's A Lot Going On for songs like the title track and '16 Shots', it reminded me a lot of when Pusha T released his solo debut with My Name Is My Name - a great, versatile rapper with a distinct style who ended up let down by pointless attempts at mainstream crossover that especially in 2016 would not have gotten traction.

So of course I was curious about his debut project, especially given that he racked up an impressive and occasionally weird list of guest stars. I wasn't going to complain about seeing Pharrell, Joey Purp, Syd or Dreezy show up, and considering what No I.D. did for Jay-Z this year there was a lot of potential going in. At the same time, though... I get repping for Chicago, but I'm not sure that was enough of an excuse to put Chief Keef on this, or why in the Nine Hells he chose to get Weezer on this project and not just Rivers Cuomo. Again, this promised to be pretty interesting, so what did I find in The Autobiography?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

video review: 'oltreluna' by progenie terrestre pura

Well, I'm glad I got this off my plate - weird record, and I put in a lot of work trying to track down how it all came together. Hell, for all of that work I wish I liked it a lot more, but whatever.

Anyway, we've got some hip-hop next, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 12, 2017 (VIDEO)

So this week mostly sucked... but it's Meek Mill, that should not be surprising to ANYONE at this point.

Fortunately, black metal tends to make things better - stay tuned!

album review: 'oltreluna' by progenie terrestre pura

So if you've been following along for the past couple of reviews, you've probably noticed that I've been more forgiving towards certain tones and textures that call to mind sci-fi or space - chilly, brighter synths, slightly alien effects, if you saw my Starset review a few months back, you know I'm fond of this sound but also pretty damn critical when the acts don't stick the landing. But considering I like this sound and I also tend to like black metal with a more atmospheric or ambient touch, surely there'd be something in this vein that came out in 2017 that might catch my interest, right?

Enter Progenie Terrestre Pura, which loosely translates from Italian as 'Pure Sons of the Earth'. They made a splash in 2013 with their debut U.M.A. by blending in elements of ambient space rock with black metal, and while I wouldn't quite say it's among the best black metal I've ever heard - some of the song structures don't quite hit the same dramatic climaxes as I'd personally prefer - what I could translate in the lyrical content was indeed intriguing, exploring dichotomies between man and machines and where a soul might fit in between. And while I wasn't exactly wild about the more ambient electronic experiments of their 2015 EP Asteroidi, I wanted to check out their newest album, described as a prequel to U.M.A. showing humanity at a more primal state and their search for the divine among the stars, leading to a test of that humanity... or at least I hoped so, given that I was having a devil of a time finding any sort of lyrics, in English or otherwise! But hey, it's black metal, I can work around this, so what did I find on OltreLuna?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 12, 2017

...okay, the last time Meek Mill had a big album splash on Billboard BREAKDOWN, it was the night of the US election in 2016, and while I'm not going to say that's a bad omen right out of the gate, the fact that not only are the charts late but it's because this mediocre rapper decided to skew the streaming charts thanks to 'free streams' don't exactly give me a lot of hope that's there's much quality here. Hell, at least when Jay-Z did his brand deal this time around there was quality on the table!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

video review: 'last young renegade' by all time low

About time I got this off my plate - and to think it took Billboard being stupid to get this out! 

So yeah, probably Billboard BREAKDOWN next, but who can tell... stay tuned!

album review: 'last young renegade' by all time low

So maybe I'm not seeing the arguments anymore, but I remember back in the early-to-mid 2000s - hell, probably earlier than that - the debate surrounding pop punk. And make no mistake, as the genre ebbed and flowed in popularity, the split became pronounced: the old guard who preferred the rougher, more aggressive punk side, and the more mainstream-accessible crowd who didn't care. And while I don't really see this debate much anymore, from what I can see... look, on average I'm going to gravitate to where the rougher, the better, but I'm also the first to admit that it's not the best fit for all bands. There's a spectrum when it comes to pop punk, and for every punk band that 'sold out' when they went pop, there are a few more pop-friendly acts that courted rougher audiences and didn't always stick the landing.

So take a band like All Time Low, and right from the very beginning I knew these guys would likely wind up closer to radio-friendly pop rock than anything super aggressive or political. And that was fine: they wrote fun, catchy hooks and when they got signed with Interscope, it seemed like a logical step. But maybe it was just poor timing - Dirty Work came out in the middle of the club boom in 2011, where if you weren't in Canada pop rock wasn't getting airplay - but it wasn't long before All Time Low was back on their indie label Hopeless and churning out more reasonably well-received pop punk records records. And to be completely honest, more often than not there wasn't much of a difference in their production or writing - I've listened to every All Time Low album and I found a lot of their material really runs together - but I knew it wasn't long before they'd be back on a major label, and so I wasn't surprised when they signed back with Fueled By Ramen. And since it's almost an unspoken law that Fueled By Ramen records tend to share musical tropes year after year, when buzz was suggesting All Time Low was featuring more 80s-inspired synthpop and new wave elements - hell, they brought in Tegan And Sara - I felt like I knew exactly what to expect from Last Young Renegade. Did I get it?

Monday, July 31, 2017

video review: 'everything now' by arcade fire

Well, this wasn't good. I could have called that going in, but hey, I was there in 2013 and predicted this trajectory and so many weren't listening and who's laughing now-

Okay, I'll stop. In any case, it'll probably be Billboard BREAKDOWN next, but I might have something else to finally get off my schedule first, so we'll see. Stay tuned!

album review: 'everything now' by arcade fire

Okay, in the modern internet age, especially on YouTube, it's not exactly a good look for critics to appear smug or condescending towards an audience. We rely on you guys, and I would lying if I didn't say I was grateful every single day for the growth of this community, be it through you guys who watch everything to those who support me on Patreon. You're helping enable something for me that's really exciting, and I'm looking forward to seeing where this channel could go.

That said, when I started seeing the reviews for Arcade Fire's newest record, with the sort of mixed critical reception the band has never really received, especially for the lyrics and songwriting, there was a tremendous sense of vindication that rushed through me - I'm not going to say that 'I told you so', but I am going to claim at least some credit for calling it. Because I was hard on Reflektor, partially for its sloppily realized song structures and lack of balance between its vocalists, but most of all for the undercooked themes surrounding an artist's relationship with fame and the smug, self-obsessed writing trying to explore and deconstruct it - and for a critic just starting out, that's the sort of controversial opinion that can cripple an upstart channel - even if eventually I wound up putting 'Joan Of Arc' on my list of my favourite songs of 2013! And while I will admit to never being a huge Arcade Fire fan, their first three records and especially The Suburbs do hold a special place for me in harnessing real wit and insight to temper the earnestness, most of which curdled in an off-putting way on Reflektor that reflected a band that has more ambition than the control or self-awareness to execute it well.

And while some of this critical backlash has been long-in-coming - for some critics thirsty for cred the knives have been out for Arcade Fire's pompous pretentiousness for some time - the reviews of Everything Now showed not just those critics getting an easy target, but also an audience who had been willing to excuse so much from this band finally hitting their breaking point - in many places seemingly for lyrical patterns that continued from Reflektor. So you can bet I wanted to get in on this, so how is Everything Now?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

video review: 'sacred hearts club' by foster the people

I honestly don't see there being much of a backlash to this review. Mostly because it's a bit later and even Foster The People fans don't seem wild about this... eh, we'll see.

No, to get the true backlash... well, stay tuned!

album review: 'sacred hearts club' by foster the people

I feel like I should like Foster The People more than I do.

And this is a feeling I've had for a long time now, probably ever since I first heard Torches and found myself severely underwhelmed. Part of it involves Mark Foster's falsetto and I don't see that factor changing much any time soon - it just grated on my nerves - or that much of the instrumentation and production felt painfully flimsy and derivative - but normally what could redeem that was the content, which was reportedly intended as a partial satire of hipster culture. And while I'm entirely for taking the piss out of an overused and increasingly gentrified stereotype, it wasn't like Foster The People convincingly held the high ground, as the satire wasn't all that sharp and the delivery felt about as smug, none of which helped the thin framing and insight. And sure, at the end of the day 'Helena Beat' is a good tune, but that doesn't save an album that's aged pretty badly.

So it was hopeful that Supermodel would be an improvement in 2014... and yeah, it was, but like with a lot of Torches it was also one of those records that built its appeal off the backs and sounds of better bands, the most obvious being Vampire Weekend and the Flaming Lips. And sure, overall there were more good songs, with 'Fire Escape' being the obvious standout, but at the same time the vocals still grated and the broader satire intended at commercial culture couldn't help but ring hollow. Again, it was an issue with the framing: Foster The People loved to present themselves as sly, winking outsiders to a broken system - immediately losing any real populism for having their own skin in the game... which has always struck me as false considering how derivative their sound is and that they've always been on a major label! 

But that review was back in 2014 and I'm assuming Patrons requesting this record didn't see it and wanted to see me take a crack at the group - now minus their bassist and promoting two touring members to the main lineup for more of a psychedelic synthpop direction on the new record. And I'm not going to say I wasn't intrigued - both The Wombats and Temples managed the pop pivot remarkably well, and maybe it might help the melodies stand out a little better or at least temper that falsetto, even if the influx of producers and songwriters didn't exactly seem promising. But hey, maybe third time's the charm, so what did we get from Sacred Hearts Club?

video review: 'lust for life' by lana del rey

So this... yeah, not terrible. Not exactly good either, but Lana Del Rey is getting better, I'll give props where due.

And yet for a group that's not getting better... well, stay tuned!

Friday, July 28, 2017

album review: 'lust for life' by lana del rey

I really don't know why I keep giving Lana Del Rey second chances.

Because that is how it feels, at least from my point of view - ever since she won me over early with 'Video Games' I've been willing to listen to her overlong, dreary, melodramatic projects with the vague hope that somewhere she'd manage to recapture some of that magic and emotive presence. I listened through Born To Die's uneven stumbling, I suffered through Ultraviolence's insufferable baby-voiced crooning, I struggled through the more polished gleam of Honeymoon, all with the vague hope that if unable to make anything with dramatic pathos she'd at least make the melodrama compelling. Keep in mind that it's not like I couldn't find other singers in her mold that could pull off this sort of baroque pop - Julia Holter is my go-to example but take just a half-step towards folk or country or indie rock and you'll find dozens of them, many who are more compelling singers and songwriters - but I keep hoping that she'd pull it off, there's always the trace of that potential there.

And believe it or not, I had hopes that Lust For Life would be the record that gets there. The lead-off single 'Love' was by far one of her best singles, and if she could deliver more tracks in that vein that could tap into sentiments that felt more fully realized or borderline populist, she could have something here. Of course, this was also a record where she was bringing many more producers on board - along with guest appearances from A$AP Rocky and Stevie Nicks and The Weeknd, which could make sense, and Playboi Carti, which absolutely did not - and it was also by far her longest record, which considering the pace and tempo would almost certainly lead to things dragging... but hey, the hope was still there, so what did I find on Lust For Life?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 5, 2017 (VIDEO)

Bit shorter this week, but I think the thumbnail looks awesome and I get to rain all hell on Jake Paul again, and who doesn't want that?

Okay, you all know who's coming, so stay tuned!

video review: 'goodnight rhonda lee' by nicole atkins

Yeah, I know this isn't going to drive crazy traffic, but I'm still happy I covered this album - Nicole Atkins has had a fascinating career, and definitely deserves more attention, so make sure to check this out.

But after Billboard BREAKDOWN, we've got an artist who I've had a mixed history with for a long time... stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 5, 2017

Well, if you're all looking for more evidence that I'm just crap at predicting what's going to happen on the Hot 100 these days... well, okay, maybe it's specifically Jay-Z related, because just as I underestimated how much 4:44 would have an impact, I also overestimated how long people would want to hear it, as the majority of that record left the charts and a weird cluster of songs rushed in to fill the void, leading to a week that in some ways feels oddly leaden but in others feels way more busy than I expected - more returning entries than new arrivals, a lot of gains, and a top ten that stubbornly refuses to move all that much.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

album review: 'goodnight rhonda lee' by nicole atkins

If you're trying to describe Nicole Atkins in one sentence... look, I'm not even sure it's possible. I tried to put together an easy explanation a number of times for this review, and it just never coalesced beyond, 'Nick Cave, except a woman with more southern gothic country style and sultry grooves'. 

And even then, it feels inadequate. When she broke onto the scene with her debut Neptune City, it sounded like she had grabbed a set of old Roy Orbison sounds and fit it with an indie country sound that wouldn't materialize properly for at least five years! It's no surprise at all her major label had no idea what to do with her, so her second record came on an indie label minus her backing band and her long-time boyfriend. And that makes sense, it was a nastier, scuzzier record... but at the same time, I would say Mondo Amore is a less catchy or solid project compared to her debut, and I couldn't help but feel like her vocals could carry much more pomp and presence that said record allowed to express.

So fast-forward to 2014 and Slow Phaser... and if anything, it was even harder to describe. Part 70s progressive rock tones and unconventional melodies, coupled with more prominent indie country touches and a ragged bland of gothic glam that had more in common with Meat Loaf and Nick Cave than anything in prog rock or country, it was an utterly unique project, even if I could trace the obvious inspiration for the thicker 70s-inspired grooves and tones. Basically, what Slow Phaser represented for Nicole Atkins, Real would represent for Lydia Loveless two years later, because the parallels are stark. And as such, I had no idea what Goodnight Rhonda could represent for her, especially as Slow Phaser didn't really make money and she was nearing her lowest point, partially fueled by alcohol abuse. And yet funded through PledgeMusic and recorded in with contributions from both the Bad Seeds and other Nashville veterans looking to pivot towards soul, this could very well be the sort of record that could pull Atkins out of a nosedive while facing those demons - so what did we hear on Goodnight Rhonda Lee?

video review: 'flower boy' by tyler, the creator

Should have posted this last night, but overall, really happy with this record, glad it clicked as well as it did.

Now as I said on Twitter, Billboard BREAKDOWN is delayed until tomorrow because I'm going to a concert tonight, but in the mean time, I do have another video ready, so stay tuned!

Monday, July 24, 2017

album review: 'flower boy' by tyler, the creator

I think there is a conversation surrounding Tyler, The Creator that a lot of us were not prepared to have, the sort of discussion that'll probably make those of us who consider ourselves enlightened a bit uncomfortable, maybe forcing us to reconsider norms that we once held deep down. To some who are more cynical it was inevitable, only a matter of time before projecting resolved itself into reality, but to many more it'll reveal as an about face, the sort of shift that has already sparked endless thinkpieces with respect to the culture and Tyler's place in it...

I speak, of course, about Tyler, The Creator putting out a good - or dare I even say accessible - hip-hop album - oh what, were you expecting something else? Maybe it's a consequence of me spending a lot more time in the punk and goth scene as of recently, or that I've grown up in a country not just where gay marriage has been legal but LGBT rights are protected under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but Tyler 'coming out' as gay or bi doesn't faze me one way or the other. I won't say I'm entirely surprised, but good for him, I'm happy for him that he's finding some vestige of peace there, and it definitely adds an extended dimension to previous records that fits thematically and I'd be interested in re-exploring. However, I can't say the thinkpiece-happy music press have been quite as accommodating - and I'll be blunt, they range from painfully misguided to outright offensive and authoritarian to a fluid queer culture to which a person like Tyler has clearly found difficulty embracing, both as an artist and a person. If you wonder why it might have taken so long for Tyler to do this, this sort of barely-literate masturbation and 'backlash' might have been the reason why, from the condescending 'this is how you must behave' screeds to the accusations of trolling that reflect a complete lack of understanding of the man's art! And again, as you probably all remember from when I covered Cherry Bomb, I'm no big Tyler, The Creator fan, but I think it says a lot about some music journalists' brand of 'tolerance' when a person like Tyler comes out despite a complicated legacy and persona that doesn't fit within what their rigid definitions of what queer means. 

But I think I'm getting ahead of myself here - Tyler's got a new record, which looks to be one of his most streamlined to date, and it's already getting the sort of rave critical reception from several outlets that has eluded him for years now, so you can bet I wanted to explore this. So what did I find on Flower Boy?

movie review: 'war for the planet of the apes' (VIDEO)

Well, this happened... honestly, I wish I liked this movie a lot more, but again, it just wasn't clicking with me (and yes, I saw all the comments saying the references were an 'homage' and not a direct prequel... slightly less credible the more I think about it, really, I'm not sure I buy that one, it feels like the Star Trek: Into Darkness excuse to avoid comparisons to a superior, more thematically resonant film).

Eh, whatever. Tyler, The Creator is next, so stay tuned!

video review: 'mura masa' by mura masa

I need to be better at updating all these sites... or maybe just have an automated procedure that does the social media blast for me... need to research there.

Anyway, now onto that contentious movie review...

Thursday, July 20, 2017

album review: 'mura masa' by mura masa

Okay, I'm going to walk you all through the strange series of events that led me to wanting to cover this record. As many of you know I'm a big fan of Shura, whose debut album last year Nothing's Real was one of my favourite records of 2016, easily, and when I saw she was going to be featured on an upcoming project from a British DJ named Mura Masa, I was really curious and excited on what she would bring to the table. It's the stage name for Alex Crossan, who may have started off in punk pivoted towards the sleeker, trap and tropical house-leaning sounds that have been popular recently, and once he got signed to a major label he started pulling together a murder's row of guests that included Charli XCX, A$AP Rocky, and even Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz... but Shura's collaboration was nowhere to be seen.

And I have to admit, I found this pretty frustrating, as I'm not normally the type to seek out this style of music if I don't see strong names on the tracklist - I mean, you kept a song with Desiigner, who I'm fairly certain will never have a stable career in the near future, and you pitched the Shura song after filming a video for it and everything? Maybe it was because that single was released back in October of 2015 in order to drive buzz, but still, it struck me as a misspent opportunity. But hey, it was on my schedule this long and it got to the top, and the reviews have been decent, so what did we get from this self-titled record?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

video review: 'EVOLVE' by imagine dragons

And now I'm finally caught up on all of my promotion posts. WHEW, that took way too long.

Next up, something a bit more current, so stay tuned!

album review: 'evolve' by imagine dragons

Here's the question you never want to ask yourself after confronting a mediocre run for a band: were they ever that good to begin with? It's a terrible thing to ask, because you're now questioning old opinions and old reviews placed in hindsight where history can definitely color how you see them and the art now? Maybe not entirely - it's not like I can't revisit the first album by The Strokes knowing the downward slide they were going to face - but you get this faint pang of regret and a sense of that there could have been so much more...

And no band has ever epitomized that for me in the mainstream more than Imagine Dragons. Let me make this clear, while their debut Night Visions had issues, the great songs on that album were amazingly good, and it reflected a sound and direction for a modern rock band that had potential, blending in elements of folk with some indie rock smolder and electronic rock punch, it was enough for me to bypass how the production could feel a little monochromatic and the lyrics could feel a tad flimsy or overwrought - but hey, it fit, right, given Dan Reynolds as a frontman? Well, fast forward to 2015 and Smoke + Mirrors, a record that reflected nothing more than a band cycling through ideas and trying to ram them through their established framework. Many people - including myself - called it a sophomore slump, and considering how badly it did on the charts, with no real sustainable crossover single, I thought Imagine Dragons may have been out for the count.

And yet going into Evolve it seems like Imagine Dragons has actually regained some momentum, pushing their frustrating producer Alex da Kid to the sidelines for the majority of the project and instead churning out a tight set of eleven tracks. And while I had no real expectations that this would be great - critics if anything have been even harder on this project than Smoke + Mirrors - you all still wanted me to cover it, so what came from Evolve?

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

And this episode took WAY too long to finish... but overall pretty good, I think.

Okay, next review on the way, stay tuned!

video review: 'what now' by sylvan esso

I've got no idea why I keep falling behind on posting these updates, but yeah, good album, definitely check it out!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 29, 2017

Okay, I'll be very honest: I was not expecting this week to be as chaotic as it was. I expected that Kesha would cross over and we'd maybe get a few tracks from 21 Savage and maybe one or two from Jay-Z - after all, it's not really a radio-friendly record, I didn't see a lot of crossover potential. And boy, was I wrong, because nine out of the ten songs from 4:44 hit the Hot 100 - along with the expected Kesha and 21 Savage, along with singles from Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato and the point is that this week turned out way busier than I expected. I clearly underestimated the still-remaining star power from Jay, because it took out a swathe of the charts - and in the middle of the summer, it'll be fascinating to see what even has a chance of recovering.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

album review: 'what now' by sylvan esso

So here's a problem that pretty much only music nerds and music critics have that I'm fairly certain I've brought up before: we simply hear so much that it becomes a lot harder to surprise us with sounds or tones that are presumed to be 'on the cutting edge'. Oh, it can happen with an interesting melodic turn of phrase or lyrics that twist in a fascinating direction or an artist presenting themselves in a starkly different way, but at the end of the day, I have to admit there's a part of my mind that wants to immediately place new records in a context with the sounds of the time. And yes, I know that's not entirely healthy - go into everything fresh, that whole thing - but context is important, and if I feel I don't acknowledge at least some of it, I'm not doing my job.

So take Sylvan Esso - when I first heard their self-titled record, their sound immediately fell into place in my mind: imagine a group who smoothed over the edges of Purity Ring with gentler folk tendencies, and an odd sense of heartfelt but wry humor that could draw you towards the huskier tones rather than shock with visceral detail. By necessity that made them a subtler group, and yet one that I was certain was never to get the same buzz - the hooks had a slower burn, the writing required a little more to unpack, and while I wasn't crazy about that debut, I definitely heard its appeal - they made complete sense in the indie pop scene of 2014, at least for me.

And to my mild surprise, that record actually turned out to be a modest hit, prompting a switch in label and the band to release a follow-up this year that finally managed to get to the top of my schedule. Apparently, they were going to taking more of a satirical approach to bigger sounds in modern pop this time around - which made sense to me, given their sense of humor and style of delivery - so I did want to cover this, so what did we find on What Now?

movie review: 'spider-man: homecoming' (VIDEO)

Well, about damn time I got to this - and it was pretty damn good. Not really great - and I'm still working on trying to get the vlog microphone tuned, it's going to be a work in progress, folks - but it was a cute little gimmick to start things off.

But that's not all you're getting tonight... stay tuned!

video review: 'the click' by ajr

So I may have gotten a tad bellicose and profane in this review - hey, when you're in hell, you do as the demons do, I guess.

In the mean time, I've got a few other things coming up tonight that are much better...

Monday, July 17, 2017

album review: 'the click' by AJR

A friendly warning: this review will not be safe for work. There will be plentiful profanity in descriptive and disgusting varieties. I'm not quite certain what the qualifiers for any bots to flag a video like this as age-gated, but this review will certainly test them. If you have an issue with such a bellicose manner, I highly recommend you click away now, because the next several paragraphs of this script will surely aggravate you. I also recommend if you're a fan of this band, unless you're into a sort of masochism that involves sounding, you might want to clear out too - to put it mildly, you're not going to like what I'll have to say.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

video review: 'big fish theory' by vince staples

Well, this was a fascinating listen... not sure how well this review will be received, but eh, it happens.

Next up... actually, no idea, so we'll see. Stay tuned!

album review: 'big fish theory' by vince staples

I have a hard time getting a grip on what Vince Staples is doing. 

And I don't think I'm the only one here. Like most people I started getting into him through his 2014 EP Hell Can Wait and its relentless, hard-hitting darkness, tinged with a frank gallows humor where the edge was only intensified by how close it hit to home for him. The language was blunt, the production was stripped down and lean, and by the time he released his viciously sharp double album debut Summertime 06, I was all set to get on-board... and yet unlike so many critics, I wasn't quite taken in. Maybe I was expecting the curt lyricism to build to a little more or show a little more refinement, maybe the production was in fact too stripped down to stick with me, maybe it was that Vince Staples delivered an hour-long double album for his debut that probably should have been trimmed back in order to add a little more density... look, I remember liking the record a fair bit, but I didn't love it.

And yet from there, I got the impression Vince wasn't one to stick with that sound, and when I heard his follow-up this year Big Fish Theory was attracting controversy for pivoting more towards hip-house and Detroit techno... well, there was a part of me that wasn't surprised, especially given that style would probably compliment the blunt nihilistic themes of his lyricism fairly well. Hell, I had heard how well he had worked opposite Gorillaz earlier this year, and this sound on this record was probably aiming to be more ragged and experimental, especially for hip-hop. So okay, what did we hook on Big Fish Theory?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

video review: 'something to tell you' by haim

Believe me, folks, I wanted to like this as much as anyone. Not precisely bad, but I'm going to forget this exists in a week, I'd put money on it.

Now to cover something I should have covered a few weeks ago... stay tuned!

album review: 'something to tell you' by haim

I'll be the first to admit I was really hard on HAIM the first time I covered them. Again, I can make the excuse that I was very early in my reviewing career on YouTube, and that I probably could have afforded to be a little more deft in my commentary - but I'm also not going to deny that for all of the hype thrown behind this group, I've consistently been underwhelmed by the actual music and songwriting on display.

Which of course is awkward for me to say because on some level, HAIM is the modern mainstream music critic's dream project to review: independent and underground enough to earn hipster points, but not too weird or unconventional to lose the mainstream public - hell they're friends of Taylor Swift, which is an easy namedrop for clicks! They're indebted to folk and indie acts of the past but with a very modern style of songwriting that would win over the poptimist. They had an image that seemed a little more weighty than your average girl group, they all played their own instruments, they were quirky, it's very easy to see why a lot of critics were taken in... and I wasn't one of them. And I'm not saying that to brag, I wish I could have found more to like in the songwriting behind HAIM to really appreciate and get onboard the bandwagon, but outside of specific songs like 'The Wire' - which is awesome and made my year-end lists of the best songs of 2013 - I was just underwhelmed and a little unsettled by some of the implications in that writing.

But again, your average music critic's dream band, so with all the acclaim you'd expect them to have a follow-up ready fairly quickly... and now it's four years later. I'll give them points for two years of touring, but apparently initial studio sessions were unfruitful and it took a lot longer for the band to pull things together - which struck me as odd, given that I never found their arrangements or writing to be incredibly complex or challenging to assemble. But hey, there's an art in blending styles and nailing the formula well, so now that we finally have Something To Tell You, what did we get?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 22, 2017 (VIDEO)

My lord, this was a rough week to get through. Not exactly terrible, but mediocrity is almost worse on some level.

Eh, whatever, time for something more recent, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 22, 2017

Okay, maybe I'm just not as in-tune with what will cross onto the Hot 100 as I thought as I was, especially when it comes to album tracks. I knew that Jay-Z's 4:44 would take the wide release to land on the Hot 100, but I did think that there'd be at least a few album tracks from Calvin Harris' last release that'd have a chance, or maybe a bit of traction for Kesha's big comeback single 'Praying'... but while of course it landed on the Canadian charts, thanks to not getting a full tracking week it just missed the Hot 100, and what we got instead... well, it's interesting, I'll say that.

Monday, July 10, 2017

video review: 'whiteout conditions' by the new pornographers

And there's the last one - whew, about damn time I got to this, and it was mostly worth the wait!

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN and something more recent, so enjoy!

video review: 'stoney' by post malone (4th year anniversary!)

Well, I should have seen this coming... but really, this was a slog and honestly a bit of a letdown when it comes to anniversary episodes. I was hoping for more from you guys, especially if you're just going to troll with a bad record from one of the worst years in modern pop culture.

But we're STILL not done here...

video review: '4:44' by jay-z

Okay, LOTS of updates to keep everyone in the loop, so let's start with a surprisingly great record. Yeah, short, effective, and it does exactly what Jay needed to do. Check it out!

But that's not all...

album review: 'whiteout conditions' by the new pornographers

So I've talked a little about supergroups before, the music fan's dream collaborations that more often than not never quite live up to expectations... but of course, it's not always like that, and considering how much I tend to champion Canadian music, it's a damn tragedy it has taken me so long to get to this group.

So, The New Pornographers. Born out the Vancouver indie rock scene around the turn of the millennium, many of the members had prominent roles in their own groups before coming together for this, and looking back now it's almost a little astounding how well it turned out. Carl Newman was widely held as the primary songwriter and band 'leader', but when you surround him with acts that would become songwriting powerhouses in their own right like Neko Case and Dan Bejar of Destroyer and a host of other 90s Canadian indie veterans, the lineup was almost too good to fail.

And sure enough, for the first half of the 2000s The New Pornographers made some of the catchiest and most infectious power pop and indie rock you'd hear, getting a ton of well-deserved critical acclaim. Yes, things did slip with Challengers and Together, but they were able to yank things back in line with Brill Bruisers in 2014, a record I really wish I could have covered three years ago, cranking up the synthesizer lines and creating a project that didn't quite feel as backwards looking or indulgent as earlier record could occasionally feel. And while I was excited to hear they were going to push further down that new wave path on Whiteout Conditions, I'm not going to deny I was concerned to hear that Dan Bejar didn't contribute to it. Apparently he's been hard at work on the next Destroyer project, but in terms of songwriting - and this is no disrespect to Newman - but Bejar is in a class of his own, and I was concerned what his absence could mean for the new album. But hey, it was bound to be energetic and fun, right, even if I am months late to the punch, so what did we get with Whiteout Conditions?

album review: 'stoney' by post malone (fourth year anniversary)

...I would say I'm surprised about this, but the truth is that I'm not. When it comes to YouTube after all, if you say you're not going to do something  - as I did - and then you give an option to the fans - as I did - you all will take the opportunity to watch me suffer. 

But here's the truth: I think any sort of conversation surrounding Post Malone that I'm having now is very different that if I had reviewed his debut record several months back, because his position has evolved with regards to popular culture. He's not entirely the guy that seems tailor-made by record executives to capitalize on mumble rap with a white artist, but instead more of a character who can accept jokes and criticism with good humor and shows up on a podcast with h3h3productions. It's led to a bit of a weird situation, and something I've noticed with a lot of white rappers: they either try to go hard with real hip-hop credibility, or they look to cash in with dumb party rap that's so disposable that the punchline for this guy's career has already been written. And while there is a part of me that feels it's a little twisted and wrong and says a lot about hip-hop audiences that black artists making more lyrical or interesting music - or even other mumble rappers - have been ignored in favor of someone appropriating that style that they can relate to because they're often white, I'm also very much aware that Post Malone has a shelf life. Frankly, I'm surprised he's had as much success into this year as he has, especially with 'Congratulations' being a top ten hit.

All of that being said, while the cultural apparatus and impact of Post Malone is kind of fascinating, his music isn't. To put it bluntly, while 'White Iverson' is terrible and deserves its spot on my worst hits of 2016, what makes it more exasperating is how boring and lifeless it felt, combining the worthless tedium of a Jack Johnson song with the shallow monotony of most mumble rap, and let's be real: 'Congratulations' is not much better. In short there was a very real reason why I didn't want to cover Stoney... but you all insisted, so now, beating all other possible options by a nearly a two-to-one ratio, I'm reviewing this: so what did we get?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

movie review: 'baby driver' (VIDEO)

Shit, nearly forgot to post this. Oh, well, it's an amazing movie, SEE IT already!

album review: '4:44' by jay-z

My first review on YouTube was originally going to be for Jay-Z's Magna Carta, Holy Grail.

Now granted, if you go back into my history my first review was actually Don't Look Down by Skylar Grey - not exactly an improvement - but that was a conscious choice on my part, because Jay-Z is not the sort of artist I tackle lightly. I've gone on the record as not being much of a Jay-Z fan - he's made his classics but he's also made a lot of lazy, overly commercial hits that coast more on presence and bravado than actual wordplay or insight, especially in recent years, and it has led to a lot of records I wish I liked a lot more than I do. And let's be very honest: Jay-Z the man has been eclipsed by Jay-Z the multi-millionaire icon entirely too often, both in his public persona and his art, and while his success would have made some of that inevitable, it's not like he's one to showcase something deeper or draw attention to details that would allow an audience to connect with more of his material.

Then Lemonade happened - and look, there's no way to even approach the conversation of this album without mentioning the moment where Beyonce cut loose and delivered the best record of her career - and again, I'm far from a Beyonce fan! It was the sort of accusation that rocked one of the most established institutions in mainstream music, you almost couldn't escape it. But just like with Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, I was intensely curious to how Jay-Z would respond, or if he even could, given who he is and his place in hip-hop. Miranda Lambert owned the fact that she cheated, and it led to a drifting, intensely complicated picture over an experimental double album... whereas Jay seemed to be aiming smaller, maybe even more personal. A record not even reaching forty minutes, ten tracks, one producer with No I.D., a few intensely talented guest stars including his wife. There wasn't anything indulgent or meandering about this, which flew in the face of the majority of his grandiose material over the past decade, both on his own records and in guest verses - and yeah, there was no way I wasn't going to check this out. So what did I find on 4:44?

video review: 'funk wav bounces vol. 1' by calvin harris

And here we go... and I actually liked this a fair bit more than I was expecting, which was generally pleasant. 

Next up... let's talk about Jay-Z. Whoo boy, here we go!