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?