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...