Monday, October 16, 2017

album review: 'MASSEDUCTION' by st. vincent

I often feel like using the word 'evolution' to describe Annie Clark's ongoing career under the name St. Vincent isn't quite accurate. I think 'mutation' is the better word - and believe it or not, that's a compliment! She may have started in the more poised and polished realm of baroque pop with tasteful strings accenting her admittedly unorthodox style of guitar work, but as early as Actor things started to shift. The guitars got more processed and blocky that somehow still managed to support potent melodic grooves, the strings began giving way for synthesizers and tones that felt all the more alien, and while her voice kept its same ethereal quality - for the most part - the content and its connection to the human experience was contorting into something more primal, for lack of a better word. Oh, the empathy, complex framing, and willingness to bend taboos was always there, but its mode of expression was warping into something less and less recognizable, with the compositions and framing maybe losing a bit of their populism but opening up new depths of sound for her to explore.

And I'm a fan of it - a pretty big fan, actually. I'd still slot Strange Mercy as a shade stronger than the self-titled release just in terms of overall consistency, but with songs like 'Psychopath', 'Severed Crossed Fingers', 'Digital Witness' and the absolutely mind-blowing 'Bring Me Your Loves' St. Vincent was making a case for the more twisted sonic adventures having potential that was just as rich and promising. And considering that her newest record MASSEDUCTION was looking to be going even deeper in a thematically dense direction, I was most certainly curious where the hell she'd take this. So what did I find on MASSEDUCTION?

Friday, October 13, 2017

the top ten best hit songs of 2010

I have to admit, when I first added the highest tier option to include requests for a top ten list, I had no idea what was going to be requested. Opening up the vast decades of Billboard history meant this could go in any direction, and that could mean a wealth of new discoveries. And thus our first Patreon request is for the best hit songs of... 2010.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

album review: 'heaven upside down' by marilyn manson

So here's one of the byproducts of the weird way I got into metal and industrial music: almost by accident I completely missed Marilyn Manson. Seriously, it's actually a little bizarre how until very recently I had just completely missed covering the industrial iconoclast or even hearing much of his music beyond the covers that managed to cross over - as I've said in the past, I never had an angry white boy phase, and I found goth music and culture more through symphonic metal, black metal, and early post-punk and industrial music more than the mutated hybrids that came out in the 90s and 2000s that spawned acts like Marilyn Manson. 

Now that's not saying that Manson doesn't have a place in pop culture - he most certainly does, from his 90s breakout records produced by Trent Reznor to his numerous artistic pivots throughout the early 2000s - but in retrospect you often get the impression that his image has persisted a lot longer than his music has. It's one of the reasons I actually respect his pop sensibility - if you're aware your currency is in shock value, you might as well pair it with tunes that can be pretty damn catchy that'll at least stick when all but the professionally outraged set grows up. But that's the thing: folks who grew up with Marilyn Manson did grow up, and he was still making music, and after severing ties with Interscope you could tell he was probing different territory, going for metal with Born Villain and even pivoting towards blues with The Pale Emperor, with the backing of producer and composer Tyler Bates. But I knew it was only going to be a matter of time before he pivoted back towards what made his career, and given that buzz was suggesting the political undercurrent was going to be flowing again, I figured Manson's natural gift for provocation could actually pay off here. And even if, again, I'm no big fan of the guy's music - I could easily rattle off a slew of other gothic acts that I find more potent than Marilyn Manson - I figure I might as well take a look. So, what did we unearth here?

video review: '' by poppy

So this was cute. Fun record too, really happy I covered this.

And now onto something just as cute in its own way... ;)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

album review: '' by poppy

You know, it's very tempting for me as a YouTuber to start this entire review with a Poppy spoof. The washed out aesthetic and slightly offkilter delivery, full of fragmented non sequiteurs, internet soundbites and memes, the sort of layered satire of pop stars in the age of internet culture directed by Titanic Sinclair which has blown up into something I'd need the next hour to fully deconstruct and explain. To reveal more would be to strip away some of the charm of the original videos which you should all watch, but suffice to say, for the most part, I'm a fan of Poppy as an internet personality.

But I'm not reviewing an internet personality or a meme - I have enough trouble keeping reviews monetized as it is - I'm talking about the music, of which Poppy has touched since the very beginning with covers and eventually original songs that would leverage some of the satire against a technocolor backdrop. And while I've liked her pop music, I've always had my concern that her online persona would overshadow her records, that she wouldn't quite be able to capture the subtle twists and potency of her videos. Now you have to wonder if she'd even bother to try in some cases - around this time last year she released the ambient project 3:36 (Music To Sleep To), and despite certain eerier textures it was far more abstract than her usual content - but it also felt more like a digression, not the blur of k-pop, dance punk, and electronic synthpop I expected we would get on her debut. So okay, what did I find with Poppy.Computer?

video review: 'all i ever see in you is me' by jillette johnson

You know, this is one of the vids where the prospects were never good - even if I wasn't months late it'd still be a tough sell to get to a mass audience, she's pretty underground...

But with YouTube dicking over the sub boxes for this as well, I'd still like to see it get some traction, so I'd urge you all to check it out.

Thankfully, I've got some content coming that should boost my fortunes, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 21, 2017 (VIDEO)

Okay, so this was... actually a pretty lousy week, not helped by YouTube dicking over my sub box (which apparently happened for multiple users, but still wasn't all that fun). At least this'll have some longevity...

album review: 'all i ever see in you is me' by jillette johnson

So after the last album review I feel something needs to be clarified, namely with respect to the folks supporting me and voting on my schedule on Patreon - and a lot of it is gratitude. Seriously, with YouTube demonetizing the majority of my videos the second they go up, you guys have been a life saver, and you've introduced me to music that I would never have covered otherwise. Some bad - I'm not sure I'll ever forgive you guys for AJR - but a ton of it good.

And as such, given the rather peculiar state my schedule is in right now, I think it's time we handle some old business and review a record that took a long time to get to the top - and yet if I had done my homework I would have been pushing this months ago. For the majority of you who do not know, Jillette Johnson is a New York singer-songwriter who has been attracting comparisons to Fiona Apple, but really her style and instrumentation reminds me more of a split between Feist's personality, Regina Spektor's hyper-detailed writing, Florence Welch's power, and Vienna Teng's knack for slightly off-kilter indie pop production that could lead to phenomenal hooks all the same. Her debut album Water In A Whale came out in 2013 and my god, it is something special, full of the sort of indie pop that throws in enough left turns to keep you intrigued and enough bombast and creativity to suck you in. It's a terrific debut and it makes all the more sense why she actually turned down an offer to go on The Voice so she could focus on her career - she's a far more intriguing artist than what that show would have her do. In any case, she dropped a sophomore album in mid-July, and if it's anything like her debut I was definitely excited to see where this would fit. So, what did we get?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 21, 2017

So I've been predicting for the past few weeks that the charts are on the verge of something breaking - and thus far, the Hot 100 has been doing a fine job of making me look like a fool by not really doing much of anything. Worse yet, the predictions I did make about pop divas making a splash blew up in the face and, as so many of you predicted, the biggest splash we got this week was from the debut album from A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. I have to be honest, this wasn't even on my radar or schedule, so might as well take a dive into that, especially considering our other new arrivals this week!

Monday, October 9, 2017

movie review: 'mother!' (VIDEO)

Whoo boy, really wish I liked this a lot more... eh, it happens, I just hope I managed to clarify my point effectively, this was a pretty scattered vlog all things considered.

But next up, I've got a bit of old business before the 30k video, and of course Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

video review: 'life changes' by thomas rhett

Hey, if it was truly awful believe me I would have said so. As it is... well, made for a good bait-and-switch with the thumbnail. :)

And next up... hmm, interesting, we'll see what we get here. Stay tuned!

album review: 'life changes' by thomas rhett

There's a part of me that doesn't even want to pretend I care about this record, to basically pull a bait-and-switch and talk about something that actually dropped this week and that got forced back on my schedule because according to my Patrons I should just 'get this over with'. Because that's the optimum attitude going into an album review, right?

In all due seriousness, I should have vetoed this from my schedule. I didn't because I've got a morbid sense of curiosity surrounding this guy's inexplicable popularity... you know, I can't even say that! I know what Thomas Rhett is popular, he makes doofy pop music for people terrified of the raw sexuality of Bruno Mars. I've always found it contemptible that he's still advertised on country radio, because let's be honest, he belongs on the pop stations - but he'd also be consigned to the same territory as the b- and c-list like Andy Grammer or just get stuck playing catch-up to Charlie Puth, Shawn Mendes and Ed Sheeran if he's not going to rip them off entirely. 

My larger point was that going into Life Changes I didn't expect the genre-defying abomination that was Tangled Up, I expected something more 'normal' and sedate after the success of 'Die A Happy Man', a set of pleasant, underwhelming milquetoast pop that'll be forgettable to listen through and absolute torture to review. But, at the same time it's not like 'Craving You' or 'Unforgettable' were bad songs - they weren't country but they were at least passable, and you really have nowhere to go but up after Tangled Up, so maybe this would be at least inoffensive?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

video review: 'the hype' by hoodie allen

Well, despite YouTube dicking me over again with monetization, here we go. Can't say I loved this, but it was passable enough I guess.

And now onto something far less interesting... well, stay tuned.

album review: 'the hype' by hoodie allen

So let's get into territory that can be a touchy subject for hip-hop heads: pop rap. And i can already see some of you scoffing, but let's be real: there have been artists who have played for lighter and sillier material since hip-hop's inception, some who are even now held up among the greats or at the very least respected. But don't get me wrong, I get the stigma, because when people think of pop rap in the modern day, they tend to treat the music as utterly disposable songs by utterly disposable artists, and while they aren't often wrong, you could make the argument that some of these acts can actually flow better than the endless stream of utterly forgettable mumble rappers, or who might actually have a turn of phrase that's interesting or funny - something that an increasingly humorless mainstream hip-hop scene tends to ignore. But when you also factor in the subset of white pop rap artists who tend to be using hip-hop just as a vehicle to make bad comedy - Lil Dicky - it doesn't help a stereotype of sanitized, corny, and ultimately forgettable acts that you listen to briefly in college and ever again.

So where does Hoodie Allen fall in? Well, it's tough to say - you could definitely make the argument that his debut had its fair number of pop rap singles, blending in Drake and Ed Sheeran-esque vocals with loose bragging and plenty of stealing your girlfriend - a cliche I don't like regardless of genre - but unlike so many of his peers he had remained entirely independent, and his followup Happy Camper early last year grounded itself with a little more self-awareness and maturity, slightly groovier production, and a style that pulled more from Chance The Rapper than anything like Ed Sheeran. Now he could still slip towards corniness at spots and some of his production choices and collaborators are certainly dubious in my books, but he was on the right path, and considering he reached out himself for me to cover The Hype, I figured I might as well give it a chance - what did I find?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 14, 2017 (VIDEO)

And that's all the posting for tonight... man alive, this takes a while to get through everything, but here we are. Okay, next up... well, it'll depend on what Patreon gives me, so stay tuned!

video review: 'tell me you love me' by demi lovato

Always forget to post these... shame the record wasn't better, though.

And now onto tonight's event...

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 14, 2017

So okay, maybe I'm just bad at predicting when things are going to shift. I've been saying for a few weeks now that the Hot 100 feels precarious, on the cusp of something really shaking up the established order... and yet it didn't happen here, because outside of country rolling some new songs out, very little actually happened in any significant way. Not like I'm complaining - I like a shorter episode every once and a while - but there is a part of me that feels like the Hot 100 needs a good shakeup, and I'd prefer that happens before Taylor Swift drops reputation and blows everything wide open.

Monday, October 2, 2017

album review: 'tell me you love me' by demi lovato

Not gonna lie, I had a bad feeling going into this record. And given how much I've been rooting for Demi Lovato over the past few years, this was not a feeling I wanted to have - there had been promise on both DEMI and Confident, and as you all probably know 'Cool For The Summer' was my favourite hit song of 2015! I had every hope that Demi Lovato could rise and take on the female pop rock mantle in the mainstream that had been left vacant for so long - she had the pipes, she had the attitude, she was taking more of an active cowriting role...

But the more I started hearing tracks in the build-up to Tell Me You Love Me - a bad album title and about the last thing I would want or expect to hear from Demi Lovato - the more I was worried. As much as you might not like Max Martin, he did do a significant amount behind the scenes on her better singles and likely contributed to the rock elements, and the problem I had with Confident is that instead of tilting towards that in production and delivery, she relied on flimsy, desaturated modern pop tropes that didn't flatter her, often tilting towards R&B or soul in a way that didn't fit with her voice and delivery all that well. And with the lead-off singles for Tell Me You Love Me it looked like more steps in that direction, which didn't bode well for this record, especially when you notice her token rap collaboration is with Lil Wayne on a DJ Mustard beat. But the other reviews were suggesting this is the point where Demi Lovato hit her stride, so despite all the evidence to the contrary in the lead-off singles, I checked this out - what did I find?

video review: 'a fever dream' by everything everything

Again, I know, it's late, but it was an interesting conversation regardless.

But we're not done yet... stay tuned!

album review: 'a fever dream' by everything everything

So here's one of the more exasperating things I've had to experience as a music critic: hearing a lot of music that is certainly good and passable and agreeable but it just a shade away from true greatness, and at least to your ears you could hear the exact change they could make to get there and it's just not materializing, no matter how much you want it. You might like the band, you might like the ideas they're trying to explore, you might like their experimental progression... but it's just not assembling in a way that connects for you.

Now for Everything Everything they definitely didn't start there - they may have had a knack for catchy melodies and willfully oblique writing that walked the line of insufferable, but between some truly awful synth choices and the caterwauling of their frontman Jonathan Higgs, their debut Man Alive just did not connect for me whatsoever. And then something weird happened: the band got better, streamlining their sound, punching up their groove, and taking their lyrics into territory that was still odd but a shade more accessible all the same. Arc was a good first step, Get To Heaven was even better, damn near on the cusp of greatness... and yet every time I'd go back to it I'd feel oddly distant from it. The hooks were better than ever, Higgs' voice had grown on me a bit, and the greater focus on rhythm was potent... but I always got the feeling the band didn't always have a firm grasp of their strengths, which led to distracting non sequiteur moments or mix choices that never flattered the group as much as they should.

So while there was a part of me that was a bit concerned when I heard Everything Everything was heading towards a more 'conventional' sound on their newest record, I had at least the hope it'd come with sharper production choices and a little more focus overall rather than blunting their experimentation entirely. They had changed up producers again, bringing in James Ford who is most well known for working with Arctic Monkeys and Florence and the Machine... but on the flip side he had also worked on the last Depeche Mode and Mumford & Sons record, and how much he'd guide the sound was anyone's guess. So what did Everything Everything deliver on A Fever Dream?

video review: 'futility report' by white ward

Yes, I know I'm late to this, but it was still pretty fascinating to dig into.

And speaking of lateness...

Sunday, October 1, 2017

album review: 'futility report' by white ward

So I've said before that I'm never quite certain of the best place to look when it comes to new black metal, and thus when I heard the new Wolves In The Throne Room was dropping, I was excited to cover it... only to discover that it never made my schedule on Patreon. Now at first I was a little annoyed about this - I do like older Wolves In The Throne Room records, they're one of the groups that got me into the more atmospheric side of the genre - but considering the general critical response to the record has been mixed to say the least, I figured I might want to back off - it's not like I'm not busy enough already.

But still, I had an itch for some black metal, so what about this debut record from White Ward? They're a Ukrainian group known for blending in elementIgos of extreme metal and progressive metal into their atmospheric sound and the buzz had been really promising. On top of that they also posted all of their lyrics in English to Bandcamp, so a big step in the right direction for me. So yeah, late to the punch again with this, but it's not like anyone else on YouTube has reviewed this record in depth, so what the hell: how is Futility Report?

album review: 'wonderful wonderful' by the killers (ft. anthony fantano)

And finally we have a review that I shot earlier this week and I'm really happy that it's doing well over on Anthony's channel. Props to him for bringing me on board here, this was a lot of fun!

special comment: midland & authenticity in country music (VIDEO)

So this was something I basically did to avoid talking about the review I'm putting up tonight, but it was a pretty fascinating piece to dissect, especially given the current discussion around Midland. Glad to see it was received as well as it was!

special comment: midland & authenticity in country music

So in 1994, music journalist Bill Wyman made a statement praising three artists in the Chicago underground who were getting critical and popular acclaim by nudging their sound and marketing towards a mass audience - in other words, going pop but holding up enough trappings of alternative music to maintain their cred and avoiding the insularity of the 'strictly underground' crowd. These three acts - Bikini Overkill, Liz Phair, and a little group called the Smashing Pumpkins - were just breaking out with records that were starting to get real groundswell, even if with the benefit of historical context it'll tell you that would fade in the years to come. But to certain underground figures, in an era where the lines of alternative and mainstream music were blurring even further as popular culture tried to co-opt an organic revolution, this was damn close to heresy.

And leading the charge against these acts was acclaimed indie rock artist, producer and music writer Steve Albini, who fired back against Wyman in a blisteringly profane statement that these acts were never truly alternative but just co-opting a sound and trend without the actual depth to back it up, pop artists in the guise of something they never were. Now on some level the venom did feel a bit misplaced - Wyman wasn't claiming these acts were alternative but that it didn't really matter as long as the music was good, but Albini's larger point resonated, that through a disingenuous appropriation of the sound they were doing damage to both their own long-term careers and artistic ambitions, and the alternative scene as a whole, threatening labels of authenticity and years of hard work by underground acts that did pay their dues and would kill to have some of that same success without being pushed through the meat grinder of the music industry. And if you were to follow what happened to alternative rock and grunge and punk in the next decade or so, you'd see that Albini was mostly right on the money here.

With all of that established, let's talk about history repeating itself, and a little band called Midland.

video review: 'trip' by jhene aiko

And while I might be the only one who thinks so, this is a pretty great record all the same. Enjoy!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 7, 2017 (VIDEO)

So I've been off my game updating this here... okay, so here's the last episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN...

Friday, September 29, 2017

album review: 'trip' by jhene aiko

I'll admit I'm a little at a loss here. I wasn't expecting this, there was no warning, the singles were scattered with no big promotional rollout - the record just came out of nowhere last Friday, leaving a mostly bewildered audience to respond to its meandering eighty-five minute length and array of unexpected guest stars. But it was more than that - even despite more artists choosing to embrace surprise albums for the immediate spark and impact, I've seen more fail than succeed and as much as I'm a fan of Jhene Aiko, I was concerned that she just didn't have enough clout - even with a project as large as this - to truly grab the conversation.

Now in a just world she'd have that clout - I've gone repeatedly on the record saying that her 2014 debut Souled Out was criminally overlooked and underrated, and while I've never really been a fan of her work with Big Sean in TWENTY88, there's something just wrong that her biggest hit to date is a collaboration with Omarion, DJ Mustard and Chris Brown where she talks about a guy 'eating her booty like groceries'. But Souled Out was not exactly an easy record to process - it was very low-key and subtle, the instrumentation was a lot warmer and organic than the R&B that was popular in 2014; hell, if she had released it two years later I imagine she would have gotten a lot more critical acclaim. And I've always liked her writing and eye for detail, and her exploration of themes that always had a lot more complexity than folks gave her credit. So while I was a little reticent about a record that was eighty five minutes long and primarily focused on an extended drug trip, she's earned the benefit of the doubt with me, so what did I find on Trip?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 7, 2017

So we're now in our last two months of the Billboard year - it ends in November, and yes, that makes both more and less sense than you think it does - and yet I'm a little surprised how uncertain the Hot 100 feels right now. Granted, this is one of those weeks that feels deceptively quiet in that we only had a few new arrivals, but again, major turbulence is coming considering the albums on the horizon, and it'll be fascinating to see what cracks first.

Monday, September 25, 2017

video review: 'hiss spun' by chelsea wolfe

Well, this was haunting... really, the more I listen to this the more it gets under my skin, especially with this subject matter... chilling stuff.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN... and then I have no idea, the next vote on Patreon is bound to be pretty crazy. Stay tuned!

album review: 'hiss spun' by chelsea wolfe

So here's something I don't often talk about when it comes to artists releasing albums in a sequence that shows the sound getting progressively 'bigger'. You might start off small or frail, relying more on haunted atmosphere and fragile tunes, but as you get more of a budget or presence you might be inclined to add more instrumentation, thicken the mix depth, wrench the progressions into weirder or darker or even heavier territory.... and yet unless you're a band like Swans, eventually the excess is going to hit a breaking point and you run the risk of losing the subtleties and power that were your original strengths.

That was honestly one of my biggest concerns going into this new record from Chelsea Wolfe. The haunted gothic folk of her early records was often sparse and bleak but there was something primal and chilling about its ramshackle side that pulled me in, especially her 2011 record Apokalypsis. And while I did have some appreciation for Pain Is Beauty in its fuller, slightly more theatrical sound, I worried that something might end up getting lost... and then Abyss happened two years later. Diving straight into doom metal and noise and thunderously gritty walls of sound, if anything it felt more representative of her themes and style than Pain Is Beauty, but I wondered how she could follow it, especially as her record this year Hiss Spun looked to be doubling down. Granted, getting Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, Happy Fangs drummer Jess Gowrie, a guest appearance from post-metal band Isis' frontman Aaron Turner, and all being producer by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou showed an impressive commitment to going there, so okay, what did Chelsea Wolfe unleash with Hiss Spun?

video review: 'dedicated to bobby jameson' by ariel pink

Yeah, I wanted to talk about this... and while it's not his best - again - it's still worth hearing, if only because the sound is that out there.

But on that topic... well, stay tuned!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

album review: 'dedicated to bobby jameson' by ariel pink

So nearly every review of this record I've seen starts with a brief story of Bobby Jameson, a singer-songwriter in the mid-60s who was heavily promoted and developed a bit of a cult following before getting eaten alive by the music industry and his own appetites. It's not exactly a pleasant story but it's not a surprising one either, and there's no obvious villain: sure, the music industry didn't make things easy for more protest-minded artists like Jameson, even in the 60s, but drug and alcohol abuse on his part didn't help matters, and he spent chunks of the 70s institutionalized or homeless. He resurfaced in the public eye after his 1965 record Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest was reissued without his knowledge, and from 2007 onwards he put together a combination of blog posts and videos on YouTube detailing his experiences, up until his death in 2015.

Now here's the thing: I actually found his channel and watched a few of his videos, where he had his music, a few vlogs, and some footage from protest events. And a few things struck me: one, you can tell he found the internet as a potent outlet to let off steam at an industry that screwed him, a renegade voice for the void like so many others on this platform, but at the same time he also reminded me a lot of older ex-musicians I've met, particularly out of the indie or punk scene: pretty smart, appreciative of his tiny audience, but also bitterly cynical and not quite as self-aware as he might seem. And a lot of it is pretty tough to watch, especially as it has the homespun quality of a channel that was never going to break a thousand subscribers. And thus it's absolutely no surprise that Ariel Pink found him and wrote an album dedicated to him. Hell, on some level given Pink's own peripheral placement in the music industry as a weird, often misunderstood outcast cribbing from the garbage of pop culture and with a bad habit of antagonizing people - look up his minor feud with Grimes if you want to get a sense of it - he probably viewed Jameson as a kindred spirit, or his career arc as somewhat prophetic. And while I've never been a huge Ariel Pink fan, he does have a lifetime pass for 'Round And Round' that means I'm always going to listen to what he puts out, even if I like and appreciate it more than I love it. So what did we unearth with Dedicated To Bobby Jameson?

video review: 'choir of the mind' by emily haines and the soft skeleton

So this was... actually way better than I thought it'd be, really happy I got a chance to cover it. 

But now onto our scheduled event, the record I really was anticipating before this pleasant surprise, stay tuned!

Friday, September 22, 2017

album review: 'choir of the mind' by emily haines and the soft skeleton

So I'm a little stunned there was as much interest from my patrons in this project as there is - a primarily piano-driven side project of a Canadian indie pop rock singer who has never really crossed over to the states, with her last album in this side project coming over a decade ago.

Okay, let's back up. For those of you who don't know, Emily Haines is the frontwoman of Metric, an indie pop group that had a remarkable amount of success around the turn of the decade before hitting a snag with their 2015 record Pagans In Vegas - which really did deserve more attention than it got, because I think the satire went over too many heads. But it didn't produce the same singles and Canadian indie success, so I'm not really surprised Emily Haines wanted to step back towards solo work, especially as she already contributed to the Broken Social Scene album released earlier this year. Now I went back to listen to that last Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton record, and... well, it was alright enough. If you put it up against the piano-driven indie acts of the mid-2000s, I could see this standing out a bit thanks to the trip hop elements around the edges, but I was never wowed by the writing and you do need that to be on point if you're playing in this solo style. Never quite experimental or dark enough beyond some clever turns of phrase, it had the feel of a side project, and thus it's not surprising that Metric was the breakout act here. But hey, a few of my patrons wanted me to cover this, so what the hell: how is Choir Of The Mind?

video review: 'the peace and the panic' by neck deep

Okay, this was worth covering. Definitely a solid record, definitely worth your time.

And on the topic of surprises that were definitely worth covering... stay tuned!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

album review: 'the peace and the panic' by neck deep

Yes, I know I'm late to talking about this one. I also know that if I wanted to I could have voted to cover this record earlier, and I didn't - it got to the top of the schedule organically, and that's fine. And if any of this sounds like I'm not looking forward to covering this, I wouldn't quite say that's accurate - more that I've got a swathe of records that attracted a lot more interest, and... okay, might as well deal with this now: I don't review a lot of pop punk, as you probably all know at this point. I don't mind the genre fusion, it's definitely catchy and can bring a certain verve and energy to spice up my schedule, but it's not something I actively seek out the same way I will indie country or indie rock or black metal or certain strains of hip-hop. Most of this is because while pop punk at its best captures the electricity and firepower of both its component genres, there's a whole lot of material that I just find okay without being truly interesting. And yes, a big part of this is songwriting, which can feel near-permanently adolescent, but another factor is that when the band does get older or wants to experiment towards power pop or indie rock or emo or just plain punk rock, the sound often gets more diverse and interesting - I've heard a lot of pop punk, don't get me wrong, but a factor of that is a lot of the mid-tier bands really start to run together for me.

So what about Neck Deep, a Welsh group that broke out in the 2010s with some reasonably well-received EPs before signing to Hopeless for two albums? Well, I'd probably classify them as a prime example of what I'm talking about: a decent enough band that occasionally took some chances in composition, but the writing never really grabbed me beyond isolated moments of cleverness and they definitely wore their influences strongly, like Blink-182 and especially A Day To Remember - which makes sense, given the frontman of that group produced their 2015 album. But shortly after that album was released their founding guitarist Lloyd Roberts left the band on ugly terms - replaced by Sam Bowden, a hardcore guitarist formerly of Blood Youth - and they connected with producer Mike Green, who you might recognize from behind All Time Low, Pierce The Veil, and a few of the poppier-leaning bands in this genre. Not a bad thing, and the band took a little more time to iron out the kinks, so this could be worthwhile, so what did I get from The Peace And The Panic?

video review: 'concrete and gold' by foo fighters

I'm surprised the response to this review hasn't been more negative... huh, interesting.

But let's handle some old business here first...

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

album review: 'concrete and gold' by foo fighters

So there was an article written by veteran music journalist Steven Hyden I was reading that encompassed a lot of my feelings about the Foo Fighters quite aptly, in that they were a band that became spokesmen for modern rock radio... despite not really putting out critically acclaimed rock records. It's actually a little bit alarming, when you think about it: this is a band where it's been twenty years since they released what many would consider their best record The Color And The Shape, and ever since then? Yeah, some dependable singles but beyond that most people don't celebrate Foo Fighters records as album statements in the same way they would in rock's heyday. And you can make all sorts of wild extrapolations as to whether the decline of rock in mainstream culture is linked to its most recognizable act only being pretty good instead of exceptional, but at the end of the day, while I might enjoy parts of a Foo Fighters record, odds are I won't remember much of it beyond a few choice cuts.

And all the buzz coming out of Concrete and Gold wasn't exactly helping my fears here. Their touring keyboardist Rami Jaffee was finally upgraded to full band status, but with rumors suggesting that this was going to be a poppier record with producer Greg Kurstin didn't exactly raise my confidence, especially when the reviews were suggesting that they weren't pushing the boundaries as much as they had with Sonic Highways - and even that, that was a pretty reserved record in terms of experimentation. And when you are nine records into a career that's spanned multiple decades with an established fanbase, especially with rock radio continuing to feel irrelevant to modern pop culture, they had nothing to lose by coloring outside the lines, especially as Dave Grohl was always going to ensure the Foo Fighters didn't lose their trademark sound and intensity. But okay, does Concrete And Gold deliver?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 30, 2017 (VIDEO)

Overall not a bad week, and I have to say, it's going to be interesting in the days ahead here, especially given all the coming shakeups.

But on the topic of one of those shakeups not quite going according to plan... well, stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 30, 2017

This is one of those weeks where I'm increasingly unsure where the hell the Billboard Hot 100 is going, and not just because we've got a few albums bombs in the making that are going to be dropping over the next few weeks for further destabilize things. And while part of it is also linked to the headlong race for what'll make the year-end lists, the larger point is that as a whole, songs that you'd expect to not seem fragile feel increasingly perilous, especially when you take a look at the top ten.

video review: 'brick body kids still daydream' by open mike eagle

Whoo boy, this was a bleak, but potent as hell listen. I really can't recommend this highly enough, it is something special...

But up next, we've got Foo Fighters and Billboard BREAKDOWN - which will be first? Stay tuned!

Monday, September 18, 2017

album review: 'brick body kids still daydream' by open mike eagle

Okay, it's been a tagline across many of my hip-hop reviews this year that hip-hop hasn't really had a strong 2017... and yeah, I think that's mostly true, but I don't want to focus on that this time around, because like it or not, there has been good to even great rap music that's been released. I've already talked plenty of times at length about Run The Jewels who started off the year, but between the mainstream dominance of Kendrick, the stronger-than-expected returns from Jay-Z and Tyler, The Creator, a solid sophomore follow-up from Joey Bada$$, and potent underground success from Uncommon Nasa, Quelle Chris and Milo, there have been albums worth talking about.

And yet this is one that I was most excited about, falling in the last category of underground heavyweights aiming to drop the cerebral and experimental project that gets all the hip-hop heads talking... although what I've found amusing is not only is Open Mike Eagle affiliated with all of the underground acts I just mentioned, he's also building a pretty impressive bit of traction himself off of well-deserved critical acclaim and a cult following. I may have missed A Special Episode Of as an EP, but I loved Dark Comedy in 2014 and his collaboration with producer Paul White - who later went on to unleash madness with Danny Brown on Atrocity Exhibition - with Hella Personal Film Festival is just as remarkable to this day. But Brick Body Kids Still Daydream was looking to be different: a concept record exploring the Robert Taylor Homes, a housing project in the south side of Chicago that was torn down in the faceless rush of gentrification and yet was never rebuilt. Immediately my mind went to The Hope Six Demolition Project, a potent if slightly directionless project from PJ Harvey last year that touched on similar themes, but given Open Mike Eagle's penchant for storytelling and empathy, this seemed like it would cut far deeper. In other words, you can bet this was a top priority for me to review, so what did I find on Brick Body Kids Still Daydream?

movie review: 'it' (2017) (VIDEO)

Yeah, pretty easy review to assemble, and I have to admit, the jump scare fake was fun. Great movie, and again, I'm no horror fan.

But on the topic of greatness that might as well be horror... well stay tuned!

video review: 'sleep well beast' by the national

You know, I don't mind bucking the critical consensus... but this one is exasperating, considering how much I wanted to love this. Eh, it happens.

But on the contrary...

Friday, September 15, 2017

album review: 'sleep well beast' by the national

So I've talked about The National before, the long-running indie rock project that outside of Spoon might be one of the most consistent critically acclaimed rock bands working today, beginning in alternative country before building its middle-to-upper class depression, melancholy, and vicious commentary on it all to impressive, occasionally thunderous, post-punk tinged heights. And while thematically they fell in very similar territory to LCD Soundsystem - at least in terms of obvious appeal to critics - the devil was in the details, the lived-in stories that didn't even pretend to build a veneer of cool in their weary trudging vulnerability, leading to an unsurprising populist streak that has consistently pulled me in. Their 2013 record Trouble Will Find Me hit my top five albums of that year, and yet even with that I'd still say it's not their best - probably going to Boxer there, although I will say High Violet probably had more immediately striking moments when it didn't get lost in the opulence.

But by now some of you might have seen the hidden catch: for as much as The National made music that by some definitions could be called 'middle-aged', there was a certain understated reserve of composure that did have its own distinct brand of ego and pomposity, more subtext than text but definitely visible if you were paying attention. And here's the funny thing: frontman Matt Berninger noticed it too, so he teamed up with Brent Knopf of Menomena to vivisect it as part of EL VY and their debut Return To The Moon - which made my year end list in 2015 for righteously taking down how such a world-weary sensitive indie rocker could also be an insufferable, condescending, pretentious twit, including an impressive downer ending where he only barely learns a lesson by not getting the girl. And make no mistake, Return To The Moon only gets better with every listen, but it had me worried about Sleep Well Beast and how well it'd resonate, knowing that Berninger had skewered this very persona two years earlier. But that wasn't going to stop me from listening to what could be my most anticipated indie rock record of 2017, so what did we get on Sleep Well Beast?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

video review: 'antisocialites' by alvvays

Okay, from a technical standpoint, not one of my best reviews... but given my most popular video is arguably my worst-edited, I've got no clear metric how to judge this thing.

Anyway, next up is The National, and man, I'm excited for this one - stay tuned!

album review: 'antisocialities' by alvvays

I'm not sure anybody was expecting Alvvays' self-titled debut to blow up the way it did - including the band themselves.

Granted, there's context required here: it was critically well-received, some of this was inevitably skewed by them being a Canadian band and we tend to over-promote Canadian acts, and they had a crossover single in 'Marry Me, Archie'. But considering I wouldn't even describe that as one of the better songs from the record, it's still a little bit amazing to me that an act I picked on a whim from Pitchfork turned out to be one of the most textured and layered and yet ridiculously tight indie acts to break out of the 2010s. I'm not kidding about that, either: amazingly sharp melodic hooks, writing that was emotionally balanced and yet colourful and witty enough to back up its storytelling, and a wonderfully expressive frontwoman in Molly Rankin, it led to that debut making my year end list of the best records of 2014 - and if anything, it's only gotten better in my eyes.

That said, there was pause for concern surrounding their upcoming sophomore record Antisocialities, mostly as buzz was suggesting it was pivoting in more of a dream pop direction. Now there were hints of this on the debut, but I was never a fan of the band's choice of synths and if they chose to neglect some of the tighter, guitar-driven melodic grooves this could lead to a serious misstep. And the inclusion of John Congleton on production didn't exactly raise my spirits - he's a smart enough producer to get out of the way when necessary, but I wasn't sure how the shift from Chad VanGaalen would connect in capturing that atmosphere. That said, it's not like Temples suffered by a pop-leaning pivot on their second record three years after their first, so maybe Alvvays would stick the landing?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 23, 2017 (VIDEO)

I really need to find an automated way to mass-post these... eh, anyway, pretty decent short week, got some good stuff coming, stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 23, 2017

So comedown weeks are weird. Sometimes they lead to a massive chart rebalance that drives an entire paradigm shift as the album smash leaves a few scattered recoveries and a whole lot of damage. Other weeks... well, they're like this, where we get a few recoveries, a couple new arrivals peeking through, but overall a quiet week where the fallout seems to be slowly ebbing back rather than outright falling away... and given that said album bombs were from Lil Uzi Vert and XXXTENTACION, I think I might have preferred the former case.

Monday, September 11, 2017

video review: 'broken machine' by nothing but thieves

Ooh, I know I'm not going to make any fans for this one, especially after a particularly bad day of subscriber growth...

Eh, hopefully things will recover with Alvvays and The National hopefully coming up soon, but first, Billboard BREAKDOWN! Stay tuned!

album review: 'broken machine' by nothing but thieves

Of all of the albums that have landed on my schedule this year, this is among the more perplexing additions. And the funny thing is that you wouldn't think that if you knew anything about the group, but I'm perplexed all the same... mostly surrounding why anyone would want me to cover this. Let's get real here, I may have gone off on a rant on Twitter how modern hard rock frustrates me with its embrace of distorted blocky tuneless masses instead of actual melodic hooks, but the truth is that all of modern rock radio frustrates me these days, because on the flipside of the breakdown-obsessed chunks of riff we have the sleeper hold of reverb-soaked indie rock with lyrics that in a better era would be laughed off stage. And while of course there are exceptions - hell, I can't stop listening to that last Deaf Havana album which in retrospect defied entirely too many expectations and deserves a lot more attention - the rule is that once we tread into what's now defined by major labels as 'alternative rock', I have a hard time staying awake, especially if I spot the acts who obviously inspired them.

Enter Nothing But Thieves, another British alt-rock group that has toured with your trendy staples on rock radio that are hard to describe as rock, like AWOLNATION and twenty one pilots. Yes, they toured with Muse - their most blatant inspiration, especially for frontman Conor Mason - but they are a poor man's Muse at best, with nowhere near the progressive compositional chops and a penchant for theatricality that didn't always stick the landing. I don't think they're a bad group - good guitar and bass interplay can redeem a lot, and in terms of ballads they stuck the landing - but that self-titled debut in 2015 just didn't resonate much with me - not bad but not particularly remarkable. But apparently their sophomore album is a lot better and is even picking up a bit of critical acclaim, and my Patreon supporters wanted me to cover this before The National or Alvvays - indie rock groups I was very much interested in exploring - so what the hell: how is Broken Machine?

movie review: 'detroit' (2017) (VIDEO)

Man, I wish I dug this more. I mean, I get the intent, but it was the sort of flick where you wonder why it was made and it just doesn't turn out well. Meh...

And on that note...

video review: 'perfection is' by brazy da bo$$

You know, it's not all the way there yet... but man, he's getting close, and that's really encouraging.

And now for things significantly LESS encouraging...

Sunday, September 10, 2017

album review: 'perfection is' by brazy da bo$$

I found myself a bit surprised how much I was looking forward to covering this record.

And I say that because I've been watching Brazy Da Bo$$'s artistic evolution for a couple years now, from 2015 where I covered two of his projects to 2017 with an album that looked to be more experimental than ever before. For those of you who don't know, he's a Baltimore rapper that has a fine enough ear for beats but occasionally could struggle technically with content and delivery, although not to the point where I was going to outright ignore a project. What caught more of my attention was that in the era of mixtape culture he had taken his time to refine a new full-length record and from lead-off singles looked to have pushed both his flow and production into very different territory than the spacier bangers that he used to favour. Granted, I wasn't exactly crazy about his singing voice which he looked to be employing a little more, but again, I approve of experimentation and I wanted to see what he could pull together. So what did I find on Perfection Is?

Saturday, September 9, 2017

video review: 'bravado' by kirin j. callinan

And there we go, something I probably should have covered months ago, but overall turned out really fun, definitely recommended.

Okay, Brazy Da Bo$$ next, and then... hmm, this could be interesting... stay tuned!

video review: 'american dream' by lcd soundsystem

Yes, I know the vast majority of critics revered this, but as I've always been pretty ambivalent on LCD Soundsystem... yeah, pretty much the same here, go figure.

For something I'm not so ambivalent on...

Friday, September 8, 2017

album review: 'bravado' by kirin j. callinan

Okay, one thing that I've enjoyed a great deal in the Internet era is that it's started to break down the first boundaries of what pop 'should' be, at least outside of what's defined by the mainstream. And while of course I'll have an appetite for that sort of thing, I like hearing voices or tones that might use the pop framework but would fly in the face of what's traditionally acceptable in the genre, even though that definition has evolved with time.

But no matter what era of pop it is, I don't think an act like Kirin J. Callinan would have had an obvious place, especially if there was going to be any radio crossover. And sure, a big factor is how he fused ramshackle guitar and piano together or the lyrics that leaned explicitly political and more nakedly sexual that pushed more into punk or freak folk, but the bigger factor was his voice. The most obvious comparison, both given his Australian lineage and his low, guttural howls is Birthday Party-era Nick Cave, but instead of gothic trappings Callinan pushed towards a brawny, wild eyed but sharply incisive brand of synth and guitar driven pop that wouldn't be far removed from textures you'd find in the mid-80s, at least on his first record. That was three years ago, and this time for Bravado he brought in an even bigger cast of players, recruiting from the underground for acts like Weyes Blood in order to flesh out his sound. So, what spectacle did we get this time?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

album review: 'american dream' by lcd soundsystem

Okay, I've talked a little bit in the past about artists that even fellow critics acknowledge are 'critic-bait' - acts that pay tribute to the past while expanding their sound into interesting genre fusions that are experimental but not incredibly challenging, often overloaded with easter egg references and frontmen who are as much music nerds as we are, you get the idea. Now I'm not immune to this - hell, one of the reasons why I'm such a big fan of Eric Church's Mr. Misunderstood is that he transplanted that vinyl-collecting, Wilco-referencing archetype into country music, and it was a phenomenal fit for me - but I think one of the reasons where I'm more tolerant of that is because in country Church's subject matter did make him feel like a genuine outcast and the self-mythologizing rang through stronger, whereas in indie rock it's a lot more common and...

Okay, there's no way around this, I've been bracing myself for this LCD Soundsystem review ever since they were first referenced on Season 2 of You're The Worst. The project of frontman James Murphy that won a tidal wave of critical acclaim in the 2000s for fusing ridiculously tight electronic grooves with guitar-driven indie rock and lyrics intensely knowledgeable of music history and yet focused most on the inevitable wistful melancholy of growing older, it was laser-focused to hit a certain demographic of music critic... and yet I'll be the first to say I've always held them a bit at arm's length. Don't get me wrong, the grooves are pretty damn great, even if I find some of the melodies lacking and James Murphy's navel gazing pretty pretentious - I know, coming from me, I get it - and frequently right on the edge of insufferable. But considering the group effectively broke apart after This Is Happening in 2010, I figured I'd never need to discuss them further... until the retirement myth ended, they got back together for an encore record called American Dream this year that as everyone could have predicted has won buckets of critical acclaim... although among critics I like and respect a little less than you'd otherwise expect. Okay, my interest was piqued, what did I find on American Dream?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 16, 2017 (VIDEO)

This week took entirely too long to edit... and it sucked. Go figure.

Next up, LCD Soundsystem momentarily, so stay tuned...

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 16, 2017

Because this is what I want to deal with on my first few days back from vacation, a double album bomb from records that I had no reason to expect were anything close to good or interesting, just goddamn perfect. And of course there is more news than that, but at this point, if I want to keep this episode at a sane length for the twenty new arrivals we have, we're going to have to keep this moving...

album review: 'saturation ii' by BROCKHAMPTON/'fifth harmony' by fifth harmony/'landmark' by hippo campus/'neva left' by snoop dogg/'all blue' by g perico (VACATION SERIES!)

And that's the vacation series covered. Twenty five records in two weeks... whew.

Okay, now it's time for Billboard BREAKDOWN, stay tuned!

album review: 'a deeper understanding' by the war on drugs/'bedouine' by bedouine/'brett eldredge' by brett eldredge/'lukas nelson & promise of the real' (S/T) (VACATION SERIES!)

I keep forgetting to post these here... okay, one more from vacation, and then Billboard BREAKDOWN for this week...

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?