Sunday, November 18, 2018

video review: 'delta' by mumford & songs (ft. ARTV!)


So yeah, this was pretty interesting - I think the review might have wound up a bit clipped at points for time, but I think we still got our points across.

Next up, Muse and Anderson .Paak - stay tuned!

Friday, November 16, 2018

video review: 'eden' by cupcakKe


Generally pretty satisfied with this review... wish CupcakKe had nailed it, but she'll get there.

Next up... hmm, let's get this Muse album out of the way soon, stay tuned!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

album review: 'eden' by cupcakke

So look, I've softened a bit on my opinion that artists might want to avoid dropping multiple albums in a year - between Eric Taxxon and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, some acts have proven to be prolific and refined enough to pull it off, and in the era where buzz can evaporate incredibly quickly, I get the desire to rebound.

And of anyone I've covered this year, I'd argue CupcakKe has the strongest case for it. She might have built her brand off of provocative sex jams and bangers with flows that go on for miles, but I've always found her most compelling when she split the difference with more contemplative and introspective content, a balance she nailed on her debut Audacious but has felt ever so slightly askew on both Queen Elizabitch and Ephorize. Now I'm not surprised that balance was off - the more wild and colourful songs were the ones that got her famous and snagged her a touring slot opening for Iggy Azalea, and when that tour got cancelled she needed something to make up the opportunity - but I worried that a rushed approach might further pigeonhole her into material where she's really a more interesting and thought-provoking MC. That said, this really has been a year where women have been running the table with hip-hop, from the mainstream where Cardi B's debut racked up hits and really has grown better with every listen I give it, to the underground where Jean Grae, Noname, and Dessa have put up some of the best albums of the year. And yeah, while I liked Ephorize, I hoped this streamlined project could really deliver for CupcakKe, so what did we get from Eden?

video review: 'glory sound prep' by jon bellion


Hmm, this was kind of disappointing, especially given the songs I loved from his debut... eh, I guess it happens.

Next up, since I'm still exercising my policy of ignoring Imagine Dragons for as long as I can, let's talk about cupcakKe - stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

album review: 'glory sound prep' by jon bellion

I think I wound up alienating a lot of people the last time I reviewed Jon Bellion.

Now to be fair, some of this was intentional: I knew the thesis 'Owl City trying to be Kanye West' would be controversial as I dug through the tangled mess of genres that comprised The Human Condition, but the more I returned to it, the more it fit. The blocky production blending, the uncanny knack for a decent tune and hook marred by lyrical ideas that would have been better left on the drawing board, the flailing attempts at certain genres that left me wondering how hard I should laugh, the contradictory religious subtext that was probably best left unexamined... but when The Human Condition worked, it was magical. The big hit might have been 'All Time Low' - a song that grew on me more than I ever would have expected - but I've found a slew of deep cuts that I revisit to this day. The biggest highlights remain 'Hand Of God' and 'Morning In America' - both songs that were among my favourites of 2016 - but 'Fashion', '80s Films', even 'He Is The Same' have all wound up on my personal playlists, and I was convinced that once Bellion managed to iron out his wildly uneven tendencies, he could make something truly great. 

So, sophomore album, a fair bit shorter than his last but also featuring Roc Marciano and the RZA on a song... look, Jon Bellion's stabs at hip-hop are always the most awkward and embarrassing parts of any of his projects, and I had to hope he wasn't doubling down on it, so what did we get from Glory Sound Prep?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 17, 2018 (VIDEO)


Okay, just one last week of the Billboard year, we're nearly there folks!

Next up... honestly, not sure, it's a many horse race on my schedule right now, so stay tuned!

video review: 'interstate gospel' by pistol annies


Yeah, I know I'm a bit late posting this one, but it really is a pretty great album, definitely take the time to hear it.

And on a slightly different note...

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 17, 2018

Okay, so I've been predicting that the top ten and the Hot 100 would likely face one more disruption before the end of the Billboard year - but man, I can't quite say I was expecting this! Sure, the success of a small Metro Boomin album bomb might make sense - and given that I didn't review it, I'll be covering all the tracks in full, no worries here - but the song that seized the #1 spot, even running up against a weak track on top, that did catch me by surprise.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

album review: 'interstate gospel' by pistol annies

It's hard not to consider albums by the Pistol Annies as minor miracles.

And if that sounds condescending or disparaging to the talents of the three women in this group, it absolutely isn't intended that way - more to highlight that supergroup projects of any stripe rarely work or balance themselves out well, much less rise to the sum of their parts and at points even exceed them. Keep in mind the alchemy of a project like this: Miranda Lambert might have been a critically beloved hitmaker coming out of the 2000s, but Ashley Monroe was far from proven on her own as label nonsense had stymied an otherwise fantastic debut project. And Angaleena Presley hadn't yet kicked off her own solo career that would win critical acclaim from indie country fans, but from few others. 

And yet the Pistol Annies found a way to make it click with two terrific albums in the early 2010s, mostly because of the sort of understood balance and chemistry that led to a unification of theme but a distinct voices. And what I've always found amusing is the subversion of expectations: from opening singles like 'Hell On Heels', you might expect the trio to use their collaboration as a wish-fulfillment distillation of their most recognizable archetype, but they were smart enough to lend impressive amounts of nuance and detail to their storytelling to not only accentuate everyone's unique voice, but also a thematic core with real weight to not just show who they were, but what got them there. And then after knocking it out of the park in 2011, they'd do it again in 2013 with Annie Up, which added a bit more meat to their stories even if the quality wasn't quite as consistent, even as the insurgent bro country scene would bulldoze over everything in the rest of that year.

Fast forward to now, five years later... and it's hard to ignore how much has changed. All three women have put out multiple solo albums to the point where it's hard not to assume that a reunion was never in the cards. And there's been upheaval too: while Ashley Monroe's material has been more reserved and light with the wry hidden edge, Miranda Lambert has chronicled her infidelity and the collapse of her marriage in the sort of weighty double album that casts a long shadow, while Angaleena Presley made the sort of blistering and pitch-black solo indie country albums which won a ton of acclaim and where a Yelawolf collaboration actually made sense! If anything, each artist has drilled into their solo voices and sounds so deeply that it makes you wonder that if bringing things back together will dampen this power or strike the same balance. But you can bet I was curious to see if this reunion could make lightning strike a third time, so what did we get with Interstate Gospel?

Thursday, November 8, 2018

video review: 'FM!' by vince staples


Well damn, this turned out WAY better than I expected, especially so quick and with such tightness. Definitely worth more analysis from more folks, check this out!

Next up... hmm, not sure yet, let's see what happens - stay tuned!

album review: 'FM!' by vince staples

You know, at this point I think a lot of folks have just given up predicting where Vince Staples is going next. Hell, that came up when I reviewed his last album Big Fish Theory where instead of following off the minimalist west-coast knock of Summertime 06, he yanked everything to the left with some of the most electronic and warped production this side of hip-hop for a brutal, borderline-nihilistic deconstruction of that party that Vince seemed to view with equal parts dispassionate contempt, mischievous glee, and dead-serious urgency. Now for me I've always dug the subtle complexities in Vince Staples' messaging, taking what some might consider the sick jokes underlying certain parts of hip-hop and making them just uncomfortable enough to throw ignorant white audiences for a loop, but what's always frustrated me is that, like Earl Sweatshirt, he's got a skill in boiling things down with real bluntness, but the songs on both a compositional and deeper lyrical level could feel kind of undercooked - the hard messages and nuance was there, but the hooks and themes never quite coalesced to really drive it home for me.

And thus I won't deny I was thrown for a loop when Vince Staples decided to drop a brutally short surprise album out of nowhere, taking the format of FM radio as a backdrop to smuggle in a collection of bangers that he said were more direct and focused than ever, hitting the difference between his studio releases... which okay, to some might reflect a pivot away from experimentation towards conventionality that could feel like misspent potential, but that archetype could be the foundation for what Vince needs, and besides, given how short it is I was up for something brutal and direct after a year full of double and triple albums. So, what did we get from FM!?

video review: 'am i a girl?' by poppy


Man, I do wish I liked this a fair bit more... eh, not bad, though.

Next up, let's blow through this Vince Staples album pretty fast, let's GO!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

album review: 'am i a girl?' by poppy

So here's something that concerned me surrounding Poppy for some time now, and really more than ever going into her output in 2018: how long would the satire hold?

Because let's face it, for as much as I enjoyed Poppy.Computer, there was the unanswered question surrounding what that next step could even be for her musically if she wanted to continue down this route. What worked about that album was how, on some level, it was both a dissection of the pop idol and the system that props her up, but a celebration of the craft all the same, and there was enough poise to split the difference between dark, subversive nightmare fuel and the plastic sheen of bubblegum pop. Overall, I found the album pretty excellent, even if it was taking one too many sidelong glances at a sound where Grimes had laid the groundwork - ironic, given that she's now on this new Poppy album.

But to be blunt, 2018 hasn't been great for Poppy. I'm putting aside the Titanic Sinclair/Mars Argo drama - mostly because in mid-September a judge dismissed the case and there were a lot of ugly, convoluted layers that aren't relevant to the music - but it's hard to deny the plotline of the videos has felt undercooked compared to the build-up to Poppy.Computer, and considering the YouTube Premium series never took off, I wasn't sure what more satirical territory they could target. What also raised alarm bells was the expanded team behind the project: yes, Poppy and Titanic Sinclair still had writing credits on everything, but the team was much bigger and it was hard not to see Diplo's increased involvement as a label head looking to deliver a more commercially-viable product, and I didn't want to see good pop satire diluted by the pop machine. But hey, Am I A Girl? could still work, right?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 10, 2018 (VIDEO)


So yeah, this week blew... but at least the Democrats grabbed the House. But I'm Canadian, so we'll handle the aftershocks regardless.

Next up, some Poppy - stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 10, 2018

I'm just going to say this right now, this is the second time I'm putting together an episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN on an election evening and I'm just not a fan of it - somehow the songs just don't wind up feeling very good... even if, instead of dealing with a Meek Mill album bomb we've just got a pileup of assorted, forgettable cuts. Hell, in most cases I'll treat that like a net positive.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

trailing edge - episode 010 - october 2018 (VIDEO)


So I imagine this could actually do well, given that there are a few reviews folks have been asking plenty for here, and I did get long-winded at points for the better. Enjoy!

video review: 'you won't get what you want' by daughters


So this was nuts - and pretty damn incredible, not gonna lie. Definitely make time to hear this, it's awesome.

Next up... hmm, Trailing Edge and then Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

Monday, November 5, 2018

album review: 'you won't get what you want' by daughters

Not going to mince words: these are the reviews that always give me pause when I put them together. Not that I didn't know what I was getting into - I've gone through Daughters' entire back catalog, it did not take long - but it's always a little daunting when you see so many critics praise an act so highly, especially based on qualifiers that can be very subjective to say the least.

Granted, since we're talking about Daughters we might as well open with the conversation that'll inevitably happen whenever somebody talks about this group, namely what in the Nine Hells they even are. Going into their first album you could conceivably call them grindcore with the extremely short songs, screamed vocals, and guitars that sounded like buzzsaws going through your skull, but their next two releases didn't stick in that lane, venturing into noise rock and industrial music with the sort of intentionally grotesque wildness that if you were familiar with their genre could seem a bit more accessible and experimental, showing the band diversify and expand their sound - and if you weren't familiar you were in the corner in the fetal position. This is a band that operates on violent noise and alienation and you need to be the right mindset for it - but if you can clue into that mindset, I would never call myself a huge fan but I thought their artistic direction had potential and I would have been curious for a reunion before now, eight years after they broke up after their self-titled album that many considered their final record. But they're back, and the critics who love this style of abrasion really love this album, so I was gearing up for one hell of a listen, even if the album's title seemed to promise otherwise. But fuck it, what did we get from You Won't Get What You Want?

Saturday, November 3, 2018

video review: 'nearer my god' by foxing


Yeah, I'm a little stunned I wound up liking this as much as I do... but yeah, it gets there SO well, and though late I'm happy I covered it - enjoy!

album review: 'nearer my god' by foxing

So over the past few months I think some folks have gotten the impression that I've been more harsh or negative than usual - and while it's true that I've found less albums that I'd say are easy fits for the best of 2018, let's flip the script a little bit and talk about a trend in indie rock that I've actually come to like a fair bit. See, as a part of the success of the third wave of emo in the 2010s, over the past few years we've seen an expanded wave of rock artists dig deeper into raw, emotive territory but harness a little bit more maturity and poise, splitting the difference between over-educated detachment and the painful realization so much of that will not save them anymore - don't look at me like that, we all get to that age!

And make no mistake, this is a thematic trend that might have been primed by the third wave of emo, but it's bled enough into indie rock and alternative rock that it's hard to not think the pretentious coffeehouse hipsters of the early 2010s are having midlife crises, from the wine-soaked breakdowns of the older guard like Josh Tillman and Matt Berninger to the over-educated angst of Will Toledo to the palpable angst of Deaf Havana and The Wonder Years. And somewhere in the middle, inhabiting an intricate blend of post-hardcore rage, post-rock atmospherics, and indie rock meticulousness, we have Foxing. And honestly, I should have tackled this band months ago, because from the reckless, ramshackle howling of their debut The Albatross in 2013 to the more intricate and reserved fragmentation of Dealer two years later, Foxing were definitely inhabiting this lane, and with their third album Nearer My God primed to blow everything up on steroids with their longest and most explosive project to date, I definitely wanted to take this in, so what did we get?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

video review: 'aviary' by julia holter


Yeah, this won't be controversial at all... eh, we'll see.

Anyway, I'm finally going after this Mick Jenkins project next, and then probably Daughters, so stay tuned!

album review: 'aviary' by julia holter

It feels like it's been longer since the last Julia Holter album than just three years.

And I know that sounds a bit strange, given that I don't really talk about her much - I discovered her discography late in 2015 before giving her album Have You In My Wilderness a slot on my year-end list, but I'll freely admit that outside of a few choice cuts it's not an album I revisit often... mostly because it's an odd album for me to take in. It's beautifully effervescent, but also layered and complicated and impressively nuanced, which makes for the sort of listening experience that's both light and heavy simultaneously, which actually makes her 2013 album Loud City Song an easier listen just for emotional continuity and a slightly more approachable style. I've typically said that Julia Holter's music is Lana Del Rey done right, but upon more thought I'm not sure that's the most apt comparison - more like Lana Del Rey with more intricacy and density, and I'll admit that's not for everyone.

And if I wanted proof of that, I just had to look at Julia Holter's newest project, a daunting fifteen-song, hour-and-a-half double album that she's described as her most layered and expansive to date, reported inspired by the chaotic screaming reality of the past few years, especially 2018. Which seemed like an interesting choice for Julia Holter - I've never quite considered her music contemporary, and by that I mean connected to current events and ideas, she seemed comfortable with abstraction and loftier themes. But hey, at the very least I had to respect the ambition, so what did we get from Aviary?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

resonators 2018 - episode #010 - 'zen arcade' by hüsker dü (VIDEO)


Well, this'll undoubtedly be controversial... eh, we'll see.

Next up, this massive project from Julia Holter - stay tuned!

resonators 2018 - episode #010 - 'zen arcade' by hüsker dü

There are folks who are saying that I should have covered this album months ago, that it is undoubtedly a seminal classic in pushing the genre forward and laying the groundwork for what would come. And that I'm only covering it now might be viewed in some camps as being a half-step behind, especially given that I've expressed a lack of familiarity with its subgenre before.

And here's my counterpoint: I see the argument for talking about Hüsker Dü earlier, but I'd argue it was more important for me to see the groundwork of hardcore punk get laid rather than jump straight to the concept album that's widely considered a classic of post-hardcore in helping define the genre, which is the biggest reason why I've put off covering this project for so long. Now some would argue it makes more sense to start with Hüsker Dü's debut album Everything Falls Apart - it was still produced by Spot even though this Minnesota group hadn't signed to SST - but at that point you could make the argument that Hüsker Dü hadn't come into their own just yet. They had never fully considered themselves a hardcore group, but the band was looking to get a lot more ambitious in their song construction and choice of instrumentation - albeit with a recording method that seemed to owe a lot more to hardcore punk, recording nearly every track as a first take within a forty hour window, and in a second forty hour window mixing and mastering it all! I mean, I've got to admire the dogged determination to hammer this out, but I had to wonder how well that would hold up in comparison to their labelmates and quasi-rivals Minutemen who put out the legit classic Double Nickels On The Dime that same year. But enough dancing around this one, let's get to it: we're talking about the critically acclaimed, concept-driven double album from Hüsker Dü, Zen Arcade, and this is Resonators!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 3, 2018 (VIDEO)


Well, damn, that took way too long...

And judging what's coming up on Resonators, that might take way too long as well... as well as whatever's next on the schedule. Okay, might get tricky balancing what comes next, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 3, 2018

So this wasn't what I was expecting. I mean, sure, I knew there'd be some traction coming from Juice WRLD and Future's collaboration, but beyond that I'll freely admit that I wasn't expecting the same level of success from Khalid and Lil Yachty, or that none of them would result in the biggest new arrival this week! Again, it's impossible to see how much of this will last, but it does make for a slightly busier week than I was expecting.

Monday, October 29, 2018

video review: 'honey' by robyn


Well, this was kind of underwhelming... still good, but it should be better.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN, and it looks to be short (hopefully), so stay tuned!

album review: 'honey' by robyn

Even before I knew I was a fan of pop music - hell, before I even had firm context surrounding what pop music was - I was a fan of Robyn.

And yes, I know that's a bizarre thing for me to say, especially coming from someone not from Europe and who only got passing snippets of what Robyn creating in the late 90s and 2000s... but we did get a few pieces, and the majority of them have held up amazingly well. I'll freely admit that when I was a child and heard 'Show Me Love' I didn't have the slightest clue who Robyn was - and let's be honest, most folks who were adults in North America didn't know either, her distribution and name-recognition stateside has always been shaky - but I knew the song connected on a fundamental level. Fast forward over a decade later and I'm hearing 'Dancing On My Own' in HBO's Girls and while the vocal timbre had subtly changed, the ridiculously intricate and tight pop music remained the same. And that prompted me to go back through whatever albums in her back catalog I could find and it's honestly a little astonishing how consistently great Robyn has been. There have been missteps - I might be one of the few people who find the hip-hop elements on the self-titled album to have aged pretty badly and hurt the album as a whole - but for the most part I've been a consistent fan of her terrific sensibility around melodic grooves and her remarkably keen sense of emotional dynamics.

And thus the past eight years where we haven't had full Robyn albums... well, it's been a long wait. Yes, I heard those EPs with Royksopp and La Bagatelle Magique, but they felt compromised, not nearly the clear organic creative vision I knew Robyn could deliver, and thus I was thrilled to get a chance to hear her newest project, Honey - was it everything we could have hoped for and more?

Sunday, October 28, 2018

video review: 'the anteroom' by how to dress well


Yeah, have to be honest, I don't exactly expect this to go over that well... but hey, I got Resonators and Robyn on the horizon, so stay tuned for something better soon!

album review: 'the anteroom' by how to dress well

So I wasn't expecting this. 

And if you've been following Tom Krell's career arc as How To Dress Well the past few years, I think that's a reasonable statement to make, as he's gradually taken steps away from the misty, melancholic alternative R&B sound to something more pop-friendly, culminating in 2016 with Care, an album that did not totally stick the landing but did provide me with 'Salt Song', one of the most infectious and gripping indie pop songs of the decade - if there was something that should have gotten a single push, it was this! But with that being said, pop was not a natural fit for Tom Krell, so if he was going to stay in that lane, I expected some careful tuning and refinement for the next project - hell, it'd probably be more lucrative in the long term, right?

What I didn't expect was this, the sort of genre pivot that flew not only in the opposite direction but also past his alternative R&B roots to something quite different, what he's described as 'an ambient dance record where the energy never goes above three out of ten'... which could work, I guess? It's hard to tell, it might fit closer into Tom Krell's comfort zone but it also seems like the sort of experiment that could misfire if he wasn't careful. So alright, fine, what did we get out of The Anteroom?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

video review: 'masters of the sun vol. 1' by the black eyed peas


Hey, don't look at me like that, I didn't expect to think this'd be tolerable or passable! But hey, this was decent, I respect that.

Next up, probably Resonators and then... hmm, not sure, lot on the docket ahead. Stay tuned!

album review: 'masters of the sun vol. 1' by the black eyed peas

I'll say it right now, this feels weird.

And to explain why, we need to go back to the early 2000s, back to an era where mainstream-accessible alternative hip-hop having received a brief second wind in the late 90s seemed to be fading out again and where a hip-hop trio called the Black Eyed Peas were getting a bit of traction. They weren't a great group - the lyrics were undercooked and often felt like they were reaching for insight they could never quite achieve, but nobody could deny the hooks stuck with you, and by the time they added a girl group survivor named Fergie to their team, they started having chart success... and it was about this time their content took a sharp nose dive in quality. And while it would take the listening public until the end of the decade to pick up on it - the hooks were too damn infectious for them to give up too easily on them, especially as they pitched more organic hip-hop out for electro-pop for some of their biggest ever hits - by 2011 we as a culture were done with the Black Eyed Peas, and the group went on indefinite hiatus. Many folks thought the group was done, especially as group mastermind will.i.am released a solo project of which I thoroughly dissected before YouTube...

But now they're back. Fergie was gone, as well as any other producers - it was just will.i.am behind the boards for this - and they had promised a radical shift in sound, leaving behind the club-era electro-pop for something more downbeat, reportedly drawing on soul and jazz, something which apparently pissed off their label Interscope to no end. And more than that, The Black Eyed Peas wanted to get political again... and look, if I wasn't skeptical before, I sure as hell was now. I've long been of the opinion that bad or misguided political art can be damaging if framed in the wrong context, and I've never been confident in the lyrical skills or insight of The Black Eyed Peas... but without Fergie and those big pop hooks, their reach might wind up limited, and this just might wind up being a blip on the radar, a long-overdue comeback for the fans but barely a blip on the radar for everyone else. So okay, what did we get from Masters Of The Sun Vol. 1?

Thursday, October 25, 2018

video review: 'songs of the plains' by colter wall


Yeah, this review is up a bit earlier than usual - I've got a busy night ahead, figured I'd knock this out quickly.

Next up, How To Dress Well/Resonators, so stay tuned!

album review: 'songs of the plains' by colter wall

I have absolutely no excuse for why I didn't cover Colter Wall's album last year. 

Even given that my schedule has been driven more through Patreon requests than anything over the past two years - still working on refining the details on how to best optimize that, hang tight for 2019 folks - Colter Wall seems like the sort of project I should have been the first talking about! A voice splitting the difference between Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, the sort of brittle, stripped down, defiantly country instrumentation and production that has the confidence to rely on minimalism because the lyrical content would hold up, and to top it off, he's from the Canadian midwest and he's only in his early 20s! Hell, most of you probably don't know this, but I grew up on the prairies, only going east for university and work, so if there's an album that would capture some of that wild resonance for me, it'd be coming from this guy.

So yeah, I screwed up major not giving Colter Wall more of a platform earlier or reviewing his self-titled album, but I'm not going to mess around this time: he's got a new project that's accruing a lot of attention, produced by Dave Cobb because of course it is and given what he's done with Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell he can still find dynamics in that bare minimalism that Colter Wall has made his own. Or to put it another way, I had high expectations that this would kick ass - was I right?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

video review: 'anthem of the peaceful army' by greta van fleet


Yeah, this was a tough one, have to be honest... but I'm happy I got it out regardless.

Next up, some old business in country, so stay tuned!

album review: 'anthem of a peaceful army' by greta van fleet

I genuinely wish the conversation about this band began and ended with just their recorded output.

But it doesn't - and even putting aside the unmistakable influences, the conversation about Greta Van Fleet's success on rock radio and rock streaming playlists has almost overshadowed any discussion of the band's unique quality. On the one hand, it's not surprising: radio loves familiarity, and if there's a band that's going to harken back to long-overplayed classic staples, they're going to win points in that scene right out of the gate, especially if there seems to be genuine instrumental chops. But that raises a very different, more ominous spectre, the question whether rock radio, through its slavish worship of the sounds of the past and a refusal to innovate the foundational sound without succumbing to pop, whether its embrace of this band shows a format so blinded by the aesthetic sheen they'll forsake actual quality.

And if any of this seems like a new conversation... well, it's not, and if anything it's a truly dire sign that rock hasn't found answers to these questions since the breakthrough of Jet and The Darkness in the 2000s, and yet it's the critical conversation surrounding those two bands that seemed like the most immediate answer I needed to evaluate with this band. Because it's undeniable that Greta Van Fleet was inspired by the past, but would they crank the sound up on steroids to campy, near-parodic levels, or would they just seem like a naked ripoff, most certainly marketable but quickly forgotten by anyone with class and taste? Of course, the third option is that they'd actually be good, but there was a part of me that had the sinking feeling that might not happen - review sites like Pitchfork have praised retro-leaning acts in the past and don't tend to bring out the level of old-school savagery they did for Greta Van Fleet if the band was actually solid. But fine, what did I get out of Anthem Of A Peaceful Army?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 27, 2018 (VIDEO)


And this week blew. No way around it, it sucked, and it leads me with a sour taste in my mouth if I'm stuck with Future and Juice WRLD next week.

Anyway, next up... a much bigger matter at hand. Stay tuned!

video review: 'what happens when i try to relax' by open mike eagle


Well, this was a great little project - definitely worth your time, check this out!

And now for a much less appealing project...

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 27, 2018

So am I the only one feeling underwhelmed? Like, I know the new Quavo album is already fading from memory - hell, you could make the argument that was happening the day it dropped - but beyond that and our... let's call them 'enterprising' new top ten entries, it just seems like the Hot 100 hit a lull this week, and while I do expect Future and Juice WRLD to rack up the streams for next week... well, the critical reception hasn't been much better there, so I'm just not sure if the album bomb is guaranteed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

album review: 'what happens when i try to relax' by open mike eagle

I missed covering the last time Open Mike Eagle put out an EP. And if you know anything about the hip-hop content on this channel and how often Open Mike Eagle has made my year-end list, I won't be making that mistake again.

And really, I'm not sure why I didn't review A Special Episode Of in 2015 - it was already a pretty strong year for hip-hop, I wouldn't have objected to another great project on the pile, especially considering my rules for EPs were flexible at best, even then. And yet when you consider the other years of which I've covered him... well, Dark Comedy was only beaten back by Run The Jewels and Jason Eady, and Brick Body Kids Still Daydream was only narrowly beaten out by the Mountain Goats, and even Hella Personal Film Festival with Paul White was my favourite hip-hop album of 2016 - if that's not a stirring indictment of how lyrical and potent of an MC he is, I don't know what is!

But Open Mike Eagle has had a busy year regardless - between podcasts, a show on Comedy Central, and a pro wrestling bout that showed him holding his own in the ring on the indie circuit, I was a bit amazed he had time to cut and promote another project... but hey, six tracks on his own new label, I wasn't about to sit this one out even amidst a strong year for hip-hop, so what did we get from What Happens When I Try To Relax?

Monday, October 22, 2018

video review: 'last building burning' by cloud nothings


So yeah, this album was awesome - hard to tell how much traffic the review will wind up getting as we're dealing with indie rock that still seems a bit under the radar, but we'll see.

Next up, either Billboard BREAKDOWN or another great project that I can knock out quickly, so stay tuned!

album review: 'last building burning' by cloud nothings

Yeah, I won't lie, I was a little worried about this one.

See, I was among the few that actually seemed willing to get on-board with Cloud Nothings making a more accessible, borderline pop punk-friendly record in 2017 in Life Without Sound - no, it wasn't the razor-sharp explosion that characterized Attack On Memory which remains their best work, but I didn't expect that to return. And by hiring a second guitarist to flesh out the melodies, I actually found a lot to like on that project, an album that at least seemed wiling to push the band out of their comfort zone, both sonically and lyrically.

And yet given the rather mixed critical reception that project got, I wasn't surprised when buzz was suggesting the band was going to wrench their sound back into darker territory - and when I say 'dark', I mean hiring Randall Dunn, a producer most well known for Earth, Sunn O))) and Wolves In The Throne Room, the last being a black metal band. And when you hear that the band was intentionally looking to go back to the scuzzy, nastier era produced by Steve Albini... well, I had high hopes, but this might wind up as a very different animal than I was expecting. But hey, what did Cloud Nothings deliver on Last Building Burning?

Sunday, October 21, 2018

video review: 'bottle it in' by kurt vile


So this was... honestly, kind of tiring to review, but I'm happy I got it out anyway. Enjoy!

Next up... hmm, let's see if I can kill two birds with one stone and cover both Open Mike Eagle and Cloud Nothings soon, so stay tuned!

album review: 'bottle it in' by kurt vile

It's hard not to feel like Kurt Vile is going in the exact opposite direction I hoped he would.

Or at the very least it's hard to say if he's playing to his strengths, because I've always been of the opinion that when the man feels fit to string his ideas together he can craft some fascinating songs with great hooks that I'll recommend to this day. Hell, I put one of his biggest singles 'Pretty Pimpin' on my year-end list of the best songs of 2015, and I stand by that - yeah, the songs might coil and meander but so long as the hook stabilizes it's some great indie rock. It's also why I tend to like his earlier, garage-inspired records more than his newer stuff - less complex and psychedelic, sure, but there's a visceral catchiness and core of tension to his best work I really do appreciate.

And yet that seems like the last thing on his mind, which can get frustrating for me because while the shaggy song construction and perpetually stoned demeanour might give some the impression of laziness, I've never bought that. I've read interviews with Kurt Vile and the impression I've got is closer to the guy in the room who is so smart he might operate on a different detached plane of existence, where you cling to moments with a hook or stable progression because it's a clue of what level he's on. But over the past two projects I've heard increasingly less desire to get there: b'lieve i'm goin down felt increasingly lethargic and his project with Courtney Barnett Lotta Sea Lice felt more like an extended jam session than a fully composed piece, and with buzz suggesting this record was even more obtuse... well, I wouldn't say I was thrilled, but I was curious. So okay, what did we get on Bottle It In?

Friday, October 19, 2018

video review: 'ella mai' by ella mai


Well, this was... kind of a mess, but I wound up being a bit more charitable because 'Easy' is a legit great song to end the album, really dug that.

Next up, Kurt Vile - stay tuned!

album review: 'ella mai' by ella mai

So here's a serious question: who the hell was expecting 'Boo'd Up' to be as big as it was?

Because I sure as hell didn't, I'll say that right now - when I first covered Ella Mai's breakout single on Billboard BREAKDOWN on a week chock full of better R&B tunes, I was underwhelmed by this... hell, I think on some level I'm still underwhelmed by it, or at the very least stunned that it was a top 5 hit! And I'll be very blunt and say that it seemed like the odds were stacked against Ella Mai - signed to DJ Mustard's label of all places from getting discovered on Instagram, unlike so much modern R&B 'Boo'd Up' was not a darling of streaming so much as the radio, which made me very curious what sort of organic groundswell Ella Mai would be able to carry into her full-length debut. Yeah, those EPs had gotten a little traction, but it was hard to avoid the narrative that this album was as much of a trial for the redemption of DJ Mustard's career than it was for Ella Mai. And really, I won't lie and say that I was incredibly interested in this beforehand, but I did want to see if Ella Mai would stick the landing on her own, so what did we get from this self-titled, full-length debut?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

video review: 'afterlife' by alterity


You know, I will say I'm surprised this did not wind up on the Trailing Edge for me... but to be honest, I wound up having plenty to say on this one, so I'm okay with a review even if it doesn't get a lot of traffic.

Next up, let's deal with Ella Mai - stay tuned!

album review: 'afterlife' by alterity

So just so you all understand my point of reference, let me describe how I handle artists who are more of a Bandcamp/independent stripe that wind up on my schedule. Most of it would seem self-explanatory: unless they absolutely blow me away or I literally have nothing else to talk about on my schedule - like in early January - I typically put these artists on the Trailing Edge. And for the most part folks have been fine with this: the acts are just starting out or are very underground, after all, and sometimes bringing down my full critical scrutiny can be a lot to handle, and while there's often a consideration on my part when it comes to traffic, there's also the acknowledgement that a lot of these acts don't exactly give me a ton to say.

Of course, there are exceptions where I do have a little bit more - I'm sure some of you are familiar with my Eric Taxxon reviews by now - but Alterity is a bit of a different case. A duo of producers who also happen to contribute to my Patreon - no guarantee of a positive review or not winding up on the Trailing Edge, for the record - they've patiently voted this up the schedule and I'll freely admit after checking out their debut EP I was pretty sure this was going to wind up on the Trailing Edge too. Not that it was bad, but more that I was generally a little underwhelmed by their sound and approach, of which I'm very familiar and have some pretty strong tastes on what I like in this collection of subgenres. But okay, what then is there to say about their follow-up Afterlife?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 20, 2018 (VIDEO)


Yeah, this was messy, putting this together... not a good episode at all, but hey, I tried.

But alright, can't promise a review tomorrow (again, crazy IRL shit), but I'm going to try and prep a few records to possibly land on the Trailing Edge as I work through my schedule, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 20, 2018

...you know, it's funny, when I made my rule about album bombs just last week I was expecting that it'd face a challenge sooner rather than later with something that was a bit smaller... and sure enough, skating right under the wire with seven new songs from an album I haven't quite covered (though it's on my schedule), we've got a smaller album bomb from Lil Baby and Gunna, and that's before we tack on a considerable chunk of A Star Is Born - almost makes you forget twenty-one pilots put out a project, but they sneaked in too!

Monday, October 15, 2018

video review: 'always in between' by jess glynne


Damn, I really do wish this was better... but it happens, I guess...

Okay, this week is going to be crazy for personal reasons outside of video production, so we'll see where this goes, but Billboard BREAKDOWN is up next, so stay tuned!

album review: 'always in between' by jess glynne

So here's something I've realized about myself and pop music: when it comes to sheer competence in song construction, more often than not I'll give acts that might not be the most innovative more of a pass than most. Part of this is the appreciation and acknowledgement that crafting a damn solid straightforward pop song is often just as hard if not harder than making a track in any other genre, but I do think it runs a little deeper, to the pop that did work so damn well in the late 90s on which I was raised. Hell, one reason I've gone to bat for S Club 7 more than I think anyone should is that they put out at least three albums of damn solid, well-produced pop music that might not have blown apart any paradigms but did exactly what it was designed to do - that consistency rarely gets the hype it deserves.

And I think there's some truth to that surrounding how much I like Jess Glynne, because I was much more positive on her debut album in 2015 than pretty much any other critic. Yeah, there were a few misfires in production and the lyrics were never great, but Glynne was a solid enough singer and the hooks were there, enough so that I was genuinely interested in her sophomore follow-up this year, even if I had the expectation that like last time I might not have much to say. But what the hell - what did we get out of Always In Between?

Saturday, October 13, 2018

movie review: 'a star is born' (VIDEO)


Yes, I know I'm going to get a ton of hate for this... but really, considering how badly I wanted this to be good, I just want you all to know I wanted to love this too, you know?

Gah, whatever. I've got a bunch of album reviews on the docket, so stay tuned!

Friday, October 12, 2018

video review: 'stardust birthday party' by ron gallo


Ugh... this was hard to talk about, because I really wanted to love this one, and it just didn't connect all the way through. It happens, though.

Next up... I think it's time I talk about A Star Is Born, so stay tuned!

album review: 'stardust birthday party' by ron gallo

So I wasn't expecting this.

Sure, when Ron Gallo came right the hell out of nowhere to blow my mind with the brilliantly witty, terrifically nasty album HEAVY META in 2017, I knew we were dealing with a very real talent that I was sure was going to throw me for a loop consistently, and when he followed it with the Really Nice Guys EP in January of this year which seemed to be an extended satire of the experience of the working musician, I knew that he would be have to be someone to watch. What I wasn't expecting was that Ron Gallo would have another project ready as early as this October, which I only assumed to be another slice of self-aware satire but buzz was suggesting was a much more gentle, introspective affair, blending in elements of funk and art rock... which yes, could indeed be very interesting, but given what I know about Gallo's delivery I wasn't sure this was a direction that'd really flatter him in comparison with the acerbic fire that stoked HEAVY META. Still, he's a fantastic songwriter, I really wanted to hear this as soon as I could, what did we get from Stardust Birthday Party?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

video review: 'desperate man' by eric church


So... not sure how this'll be received, but it was an interesting album to talk about, even if I didn't quite love it as much as I wanted.

Next up, Ron Gallo and then I'll probably sneak out to see A Star Is Born at some point, so stay tuned!

album review: 'desperate man' by eric church

There's a part of me that wishes I had a firmer clue where Eric Church was going.

See, it seemed simple enough in the early 2010s, where he adopted a brand of swaggering rock-tinged country that could come across a little overblown but tended to have enough details, hooks, and nifty ideas bending around the genre of country music that critics gave him a pass. Then came The Outsiders in 2014, an album that was critically beloved at the time but in retrospect seems to have held up as worse for wear, at least in the circles I run. I'd argue that the record earned a lot of points for its novel steps towards progressive rock and metal that were damn near unheard of at the time, and the sheer balls behind the risk won acclaim... even though even then I was calling it a bloated, overwrought, sloppily produced mess that overplayed its hand, especially in comparison to the other boundary-pushing country albums of that year, and I reckon my opinion has held up a little more strongly than some of that critical acclaim.

And nothing was the strongest rebuke to The Outsiders' awkward reception was Eric Church's follow-up the next year with Mr. Misunderstood, a much needed course correction that still was on the outskirts of country - more roots rock and Americana - but showcased a fair bit more temperance and nuance in Church's songwriting and compositions, still taking risks but with a little more of a level head. And from there, all the buzz seemed to indicate his long-overdue album this year would follow in a similar path - still more rock and blues inspired than outright country, still with a casual blend of genres that thankfully Jay Joyce's much-improved production would flatter, only this time picking up more of a southern, swampy edge that would reflect Church's dogged commitment to pushing the genre into territory not quite untapped but certainly neglected. And given how much I liked Mr. Misunderstood, I had a lot of high hopes for Desperate Man, especially with its terrific lead-off self-titled single. So what did we find with this?

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

video review: 'ultraviolet' by poets of the fall


Well, this was awesome. Yeah, definitely want to hear more of this, although maybe a bit more metal next time? Please?

Anyway, either Ron Gallo or Eric Church up next, stay tuned!

album review: 'ultraviolet' by poets of the fall

You know, I could rattle off a pretty impressive list of disappointing events in 2016, but if we're just to confine it to music, the last Poets Of The Fall album would be up there.

And no, I'm not going to mince words with this: Poets of the Fall were one of the most strikingly potent alternative rock and metal groups to break out of the 2000s with multiple albums I'd rank as among the best of their respective years... and yet in 2016, it didn't work. And for once it was strikingly easy to point to the cause of it all: not Marko Saaresto's delivery or the band's increasingly dalliances with atmospheric pop rock, but the introduction of a new producer who seemed to grasp the basics of a Poets of the Fall sound but none of the subtleties, leading to a glitch in the alchemy that gave us possibly their most underwhelming project to date. Don't get me wrong, there were songs that worked off of Clearview and it was still good, but this is a band that delivers magnificence, and merely good does not cut it in my books. 

But I had hope for this one, folks, I did. For one they had brought the production back in house and while buzz was indicating the wild experimentation that has characterized their 2010s work was still in swing, I've been of the belief that this band has a better grasp on genre blending than most - hell, I absolutely adored their biggest pop pivot on Jealous Gods, and if they were going to keep going in that direction, I had to hope they'd stick the landing. So, what did we get on Ultraviolet?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 13, 2018 (VIDEO)


Okay, I think I'm pleased with how I landed things here with regards to album bombs going forward, and the episode turned alright along the way. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - october 13, 2018

Well, I was half right with this. I knew there'd be some form of album bomb with Lil Wayne - the sales and streaming numbers made it practically undeniable - but what I didn't expect that it kept Logic from charting anything with the entire album dominating the Hot 100 with a full twenty-two debuts from that album alone. And since I already reviewed the album... well, you'll see in a bit, but suffice to say that considering album bombs are now the norm in the streaming era and have been throughout 2018, I'm going to be putting in some new rules on how to properly handle them in a way that's reasonable to the health of this show, so stay tuned for that.

Monday, October 8, 2018

video review: 'trench' by twenty one pilots


It's strange that it feels like I'm the one who somehow wound up being the most cool on this album of the YouTube critics. I mean, it's not bad - it's a good, thematically rich listen, but I'm not convinced the hooks are there and the songs are as gripping, and the sonic palette got really draining after a while. Just not really feeling it, I guess.

But next up... so much Lil Wayne, folks, it's a big album bomb coming, so stay tuned?

video review: 'grave mounds and grave mistakes' by a forest of stars


So this was a mess... honestly, I was tempted just to put this on the Trailing Edge, but I wound up easily having enough for a full review, go figure.

But of course, what everyone's really talking about is...

album review: 'trench' by twenty one pilots

Well, it's been a bit of a journey getting to this point... and I'm not even sure I can say that with a straight face, because I think what people think about my opinions around twenty-one pilots are very different than the actual reality, so I think it might help to bring folks up to speed.

So, twenty-one pilots. They started off the late 2000s and very early 2010s with two independent albums that fans in the Clique adore a fair bit more than they deserve - not that there wasn't good ideas but both records are desperately unpolished, leaving twenty-one pilots as one of the few groups that actually got better through signing to Fueled By Ramen in the early 2010s. This led to them putting out their major label debut Vessel in 2013, a genre-blurring mess of an album that I still wound up considering pretty great because the compositions and songwriting contributed to sharp hooks, a keen sense of self-awareness, and a few genuinely brilliant tracks. In 2015 they followed it with Blurryface, delivered even more polished compositions and then ascended right up their own asses with a blistering self-aware dissection of their newfound fame... and it's also their best album to date and one of the best albums of 2015. And if it sounds like these comments are phrased to intentionally annoy the Clique... well, they are, but it's all in good fun and with the realization that I'm a pretty big fan of this group too - I'm just also very much aware of when a band starts taking the piss out of themselves - which may have been the entire damn arc of Blurryface, for the record.

But I'll admit I was worried about Trench. Yes, the actual guitar on 'Jumpsuit' was exciting to me and the hope that this group was finally going to get some rock muscle was only encouraging... but I'll freely admit that there were warning signs about this project that made me wary. Because even going back two years later I did not like 'Heathens', and the less said about that butchering of My Chemical Romance's 'Cancer' the better, but both were signs that the band was starting to drown in their own veneer, and I wasn't sure a dystopian concept record was the way out of that, especially given that in my circles the hype seemed oddly muted. But hey, I still think this band is talented and having heard their blatant copycats and wannabes chase their fanbase, I was curious where they'd take their sound next, so what did we get with Trench?

album review: 'grave mounds and grave mistakes' by a forest of stars

You know, there was a time when I was starting to get into black metal that I was unsure if I'd be recommended acts I didn't like within the genre. That's the funny thing about extreme music and one reason why critics who don't exclusively specialize in it tend to hand out high scores more often, mostly because it's more organic. The good stuff rises to the top and picks up popularity, the bad or incompetent stuff just... doesn't, and winds up in the pits of obscurity.

Of course, the big exception to this rule is when a band slips into 'avant-garde' territory and is simply so unique that they seem custom-made for a cult following even if the quality isn't there - and on that note, A Forest Of Stars. I'll be very blunt and say that when I checked out their first few albums, I wasn't a fan whatsoever - and given my fondness for fantasy or at the very least Celtic folk tones you'd think they'd be up my alley, but with every listen I found the slapdash blend of black metal, quasi-futuristic psychedelic rock, and pompous neo-classical folk to be a total mess. Yeah, the poetry was okay, but the progressions were underwhelming, the production rarely rose above mediocre and nothing close to consistent, and the less I say about the attempted blend of male and female vocals, the better. I'll admit they got better with each passing album, but up until this release I'd only call them okay for some good violin work and some passable black metal segments, and I've never been a fan of the vocals across any of their projects. They reminded me a lot of Diablo Swing Orchestra, who at their best were able to balance the ridiculous camp with some genuine menace and chops but at their worst could come across as oversold and gimmicky, which is just as true about A Forest of Stars down to their fake origin story! And when I heard that this album was going to be revisiting sounds from their 2012 release A Shadowplay for Yesterdays - which is arguably where their theatricality picked up the most flop-sweat - I was steeling myself for a rough listen. How did it turn out?

Saturday, October 6, 2018

video review: 'ysiv' by logic


So yeah, this was a tough one to push out... but now I'm heading into an overloaded October, and that means we've got twenty-one pilots next - stay tuned!

Friday, October 5, 2018

album review: 'ysiv' by logic

It's hard to believe it was just five years ago when I was openly praising a Logic album.

Hell, I think a lot of you remember my review of Under Pressure, his 2014 album that built on some pretty solid mixtape momentum and had some real significant weight to match Logic's flows and contemporary but distinctive boom bap production. I stand by that record as legitimately great, highlighting a rising talent who had great taste in production and a lot of ambition, which translated into his follow-up the next year The Incredible True Story which took his content into a space-themed concept record that couldn't quite stick the landing. And then he followed it two years later with Everybody that went for an even more ambitious and polarizing topic about being biracial in America that earned him even more backlash...

And yet it was that project that netted Logic his first massive smash hit, complete with guest appearances from Khalid and Alessia Cara he got a song with the title of the suicide hotline to break into the top 5. It hadn't been his first charting presence - the posse cut from Suicide Squad 'Sucker for Pain' gave him that, and it's important to note that his less conceptual, more mainstream mixtapes had a tendency to do very well on the Hot 100 - but the suicide hotline song set a narrative around Logic as an approachable, generally nonthreatening rapper who could flow his ass off but wound up speaking around platitudes that could feel misconceived or shallow... which yes, was something that had leaked into his songwriting on the albums, but I do remember when Logic had more to say and could stick the landing.

And I'll admit I had a bad feeling about this project in particular, coming hot on the heels of some particularly stupid comments that he made how he makes music for his 'fans', not hip-hop culture - a bit of a spicy statement and I guarantee it wasn't made with the Wu-Tang Clan in the room, even despite somehow getting a significant chunk of the members to contribute to a song on this album. But even calling the album YSIV was telling, an album follow-up to a series of mixtapes with four songs breaking the six minute mark and a lead-off single featuring Ryan Tedder's caterwauling on the hook. Suffice to say, I was not expecting this to be great or even good - was I wrong?