Tuesday, September 17, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 21, 2019

So I'll be honest: when I created my album bomb rules, there inevitably were going to be projects that just skirt around them - it hasn't been a perfect process, and one that I'll probably revisit for the next Billboard year, just taking the data I have into account. Normally it has been the albums that have a full six or seven songs released - just under my eight song cut-off - and in those cases it's normally the full swathe of other releases that leads to a lengthy episode. Of course, the other factor comes when the artist is so big that the vast majority of his new entries hit in the top 40, and given this happened with Post Malone... yeah, album bomb rules are in effect, but I'm still going to wind up covering the majority of the album anyway, so mission accomplished, I guess?

video review: 'charli' by charli xcx

First big album review of the week (in a week stacked with some heavy ones), but next up is a frankly monstrous episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

Monday, September 16, 2019

album review: 'charli' by charli xcx

I saw Charli XCX live less than a month ago. I saw her on the main stage at Reading Festival as she blew through so many of the hits she had either created or cowritten and she was dancing her ass off to ramp up the energy for a tough afternoon set... and yet even as I watching, I had the lingering feeling that something was wrong. This should all be working... and yet it wasn't quite getting there.

And when I reflect upon her career and the constant spurt of hype from critics whenever she pushes out another genre-pushing pop project, I'm left with the niggling feeling that Charli XCX has been torn between a few different worlds for a long time. On the one hand, you have the mainstream push where she could absolutely be huge, with the distinctive voice, the theatricality, the knack for hooks, the surprisingly deep well of connections and guests she can pull upon, where she can build a whole set on those moments! But that's not all she is, and where she's mused publicly where she might be better off writing behind the scenes... because the other side of her art is the PC Music and SOPHIE side with the contorted electronics and sounds dragging pop music forward kicking and screaming, where she's grabbed so many critics, but not really the mainstream in the same way, at least not yet. At the festival I left convinced that for a nightclub or theater show she would be far more effective with her experimental work instead of fighting to hold a listless and scorching festival audience mid-afternoon, and fair enough - atmosphere is often one of the hardest things for any artist to control or manipulate, especially on a massive stage where she didn't seem to have a huge team behind her - but at this point I feel like I've been watching Charli's hype for most of the decade, and while I have to applaud her sustainability, you have to wonder why her balancing act hasn't quite blown her up into a superstar yet, especially if the music is good. Some of that I have to blame on her team and label, but when you are an artist ahead of your time with hype that seems bigger than her audience... well again, it's tough.

Now for me, I've never quite been truly 'wowed' by a Charli XCX project all the way through - more of my lingering tonal issues with the PC Music camp which don't always connect - but hey, I do find her a fascinating artist and I did have real hopes for Charli, so did it click this all the way this time?

Saturday, September 14, 2019

video review: 'great hits' by SHREDDERS

So, guess who got demonetized for talking about (and not so implicitly endorsing) antifa (and then lost a bunch of subs as a result)?

Eh, whatever, I'll keep chugging along - if you know, you know. Enjoy!

Friday, September 13, 2019

album review: 'great hits' by SHREDDERS

You know, I've talked a fair bit recently about 'expectations', where as a critic I've gotten used to tempering them and praying for the surprise, which is a hell of a lot better than setting them high and falling short. And that's absolutely the case that I had when I was going through my schedule and came up on SHREDDERS. Don't get me wrong, I like these guys - P.O.S and Sims can spit their asses off and Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak would give them all the warping, abrasive production that they would need... but I remembered being a little underwhelmed by their debut Dangerous Jumps, and I just left with the feeling that for as single-minded and thorny as the project was, outside of scattered moments it never quite hit as much as I was hoping. 

And going into Great Hits, I'll admit my expectations were even lower: seven songs, just over twenty minutes of material, the buzz hadn't really coalesced, and they were following a Sims collaboration project from last year that was a little underwhelming and an album from fellow Doomtree crew member Dessa that is damn near a classic in my books. So I figured if we were just going to get more of Dangerous Jumps, it might be the sort of project that'd fit well on the Trailing Edge and I'd just move on, but I still wanted to give it a shot... so what did we get?

video review: 'eve' by rapsody

So yeah, this was a little disappointing - really wished it connected more strongly, but it happens.

But I did manage to find some hip-hop where again, I'm late to the party, but I'm excited as hell to talk about it - stay tuned!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

album review: 'eve' by rapsody

Yes, I'm late again - not as late as last time, but still late, and that's on me.

And yet that got me thinking: Rapsody is one of those rappers who should be discussed among terrific rappers right now, a lyricist who can bend flows with cutting bars and who has the significant production talents of 9th Wonder behind her, along with the pedigree to command respect of spitters past and present... and yet for as much as I praised Laila's Wisdom late in 2017, it wasn't a project I often felt inclined to revisit in the same way. And I can't just say it's rooted in the rush of the year-end, because Ruston Kelly dropped at the end of last year and I still play that album, so what the hell is it?

Well, after a quick relisten to Laila's Wisdom which served as a welcome reminder of its quality, I did get something of an answer: density. Rapsody stacks her bars deep, and placed against textured production and heavy subject matter, but light on melodic hooks or straightforward bangers, it means I place her in a category with other heavy-hitting lyricists from the underground that I need to be in a specific mood to hear. And let me stress that's not to denigrate her - that's an elite group, for sure, and it's also one that as I get older I revisit more, but I do feel that the next big step for Rapsody would be finding a way to transcend that barrier and group, which may come more through composition and song structure than outright bars, or a thematic core that resonated more deeply. And given the mountains of critical acclaim given to Eve - similar to what was given to Laila's Wisdom but also a little more muted than I expected - I did have high hopes for this, so what did Rapsody deliver?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

video review: 'the highwomen' by the highwomen

Well, this was well-worth the review... let's see if the trolls decide to come down on this one...

Anyway, I'm on a kick for this sort of thing, so Rapsody is up next - stay tuned!

album review: 'the highwomen' by the highwomen

This is the sort of album where it would be too easy to set impossible expectations... providing, of course, you could contextualize a release like this anyway. That's the funny thing with a lot of supergroups, because given the individual members even a little more thought, you might see where it makes sense, until it just doesn't.

Now for me, go through three of the artists and it made complete sense. Brandi Carlile was coming off a Grammy-nominated year and probably had enough clout off her back catalog to land exactly what she wanted. Amanda Shires might have less immediate acclaim, as some have just pigeonholed her as the wife of Jason Isbell - which does a massive disservice to her fantastic violin work and an increasingly eclectic discography, including an album last year that didn't quite win me over but was certainly weird enough to attract attention. Then there's Natalie Hemby, the name that might not get the most immediate recognition unless you've been reading the liner notes of A Star Is Born, but I knew her most from her 2017 debut Puxico, an excellent album that I still can't find on vinyl to this day - seriously, if anyone would send me a lead, I'd be incredibly grateful here! But all three of these women made sense working together - not quite firebrands in the same way as the Pistol Annies, but maybe closer to case/lang/veirs or Trio, the legendary team-up between Dolly Parton, Linda Rondstadt, and Emmylou Harris, and when you see cowriting credits from Isbell, Miranda Lambert, Sheryl Crow, and Lori McKenna, plus production from Dave Cobb... shit, is there such a thing as stacking the deck?

And then there's Maren Morris - ironically the most "popular" artist on this list in terms of hits, but the name that stuck out like a sore thumb when I saw the supergroup lineup in terms of her sound and critical acclaim. Hell, you could make the argument that with her last album she was content to mine country for credibility as she continued her pop pivot... which is why her inclusion here is so damn fascinating. I mean, her best music has always been country so if her pop work was just a means to an end to get the industry pull to get here, all the power to her, especially if she could leverage her fanbase to bring a bigger audience to some fantastic talent. In other words, expectations were high: what did we get from The Highwomen?

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 14, 2019 (VIDEO)

Yeah, rough episode... it happens.

Next up, I'm finally going to talk about The Highwomen, then probably Lower Dens - stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 14, 2019

This week does not matter. Now the natural expansion of that is saying, 'look, the Billboard Hot 100 is a badly constructed fugazi of contradictions and payola, none of it really matters', but let's focus on this week here, because next week Post Malone is going to bulldoze through here with a full Hollywood's Bleeding album bomb, and most of what showed up here will be gone: you've been warned.

Monday, September 9, 2019

video review: 'hollywood's bleeding' by post malone

Okay, this was... actually surprisingly easy to assemble, Post Malone is like that for me.

Next up is a big one and the most pleasant of surprises... stay tuned!

album review: 'hollywood's bleeding' by post malone

It's weird thinking about how my opinions have evolved on Post Malone over the past four years. Through 2015 and 2016 I couldn't stand him on the back of a badly produced, slapdash debut called Stoney that to this day features some of my least favourite songs of the decade. Then 2017 happened and despite some of the asinine public remarks from him on hip-hop culture, we got 'Candy Paint', which when included onto his sophomore album beerbongs & bentleys wound up being one of my favourite songs of the following year. Then I wound up seeing him live at a festival in 2018... and then seeing him live again in 2019. 

And the strange thing is that many of my lingering issues hadn't faded - I still couldn't stand his warble, his lyrics could stray into ugly or outright stupid territory, his choice in guest stars was questionable - and it was always a crapshoot if they bothered to care - and it was hard to shake the feeling he was leveraging hip-hop culture for crossover success while never quite fitting as well as he should. And yet as the production brought thicker atmosphere to cushion his vocals, as he picked rougher and more organic grooves behind him to lean into a pop-trap sound that increasingly flattered him, and worked to crank up his live presence with surprisingly raw intensity, he stuck around and picked up more fame and hype with every release. And while I'm not going to say he won me over at any point... I was genuinely curious how Hollywood's Bleeding would turn out. The guest stars certainly seemed intriguing and lead-off singles like 'Wow.' and 'Goodbyes' had promise - as well including 'Sunflower' on the project, a song that I've never loved but also have never gotten tired of the entire year - so fine, how is Hollywood's Bleeding?

Friday, September 6, 2019

video review: 'forevher' by shura

And yes, this is way too late, but I'm happy I got a chance to cover it all the same, even if I didn't quite love it as much as I liked.

Next up... hmm, could be all over the place, but stay tuned!

album review: 'forevher' by shura

This has been long overdue.

In fact, I think some of you might be surprised it's taken me this long to get to this album, especially given how much Shura won me over three years ago with Nothing's Real, a debut that came right the hell out of nowhere as one of the most promising slices of tight and immensely rewarding synthpop I've covered this decade. It was one of those rare cases where I had no idea what I was expecting, but given her tasteful update of retro-80s tones and a healthy amount of Janet Jackson worship, fused with terrific melodies, great subtle hooks, and truly remarkable writing delving into romantic intricacies, it's only grown more potent with every passing year.

And thus I was really looking forward to her follow-up... and yet I delayed with giving it a lot of listens. I was nervous how she'd follow it up, to be sure, but also because reportedly the sound had changed ever so slightly as well as dialing into the queer themes that had been moved from subtext to text this time around, and I was desperately praying the tightness had not been compromised in setting that vibe. Granted, the reception and critical acclaim has been potent so I had every reason to hope, but how about it: what did we get from Forevher?

video review: 'norman fucking rockwell!' by lana del rey

Okay, so I talked way too much about this album... go figure.

Anyway, next up I'm finally talking about Shura, so stay tuned!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

album review: 'norman fucking rockwell!' by lana del rey

So let me give you all a little bit of insider information when it comes to how albums are usually released in the modern era: presuming the album is done or nearly done, a single is released, maybe tries to spur a bit of traction, and if it sticks the countdown opens up to push the album to the public. The window has shortened considerably in comparison with the predictable radio run, which means that if you start seeing an artist pushing more than a few singles before the album drops, or you see the release date change when the single doesn't catch fire... well, that's not a good sign behind the scenes for the artist and any label support they might have.

And I bring this up because of all the acts for which I expected this wouldn't be an issue, Lana Del Rey was on that list. Yeah, my issues with her have been well-documented - see the reviews of Ultraviolence, Honeymoon, and Lust For Life for the lengthy and contentious details - but she routinely sold a ton of albums, never quite matching her debut but still consistent. And with this album, right from the first singles she was releasing she was getting the sort of widespread critical acclaim she hadn't seen properly in years, even from outlets who never gave her the time of day... and yet she started releasing her first singles nearly a year ago, and the album had already been delayed until the end of summer. Hell, up until last week I wasn't even sure it was going to come out, let alone that it would drop and receive the most critical acclaim she's ever seen in her career! And given that I had purposefully avoided any single had released, the most I really knew going in was how her primary collaborator on production was Jack Antonoff, an intriguing choice if only because whenever he toys with backwards-looking Americana he can hit a decent stride, so I was fascinated how that'd play in the writing. So alright, we probably should have gotten this album a year ago, but what did Lana Del Rey deliver with Norman Fucking Rockwell!?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 7, 2019 (VIDEO)

Okay, here we go, lot of Taylor Swift this week - and for a change, it actually made this pretty easy to handle, go figure.

Anyway... yeah, the week of frustrations doesn't end, because we're going to be talking about Lana Del Rey next - stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 7, 2019

So here we go: album bomb from Taylor Swift, where all eighteen songs from Lover has broken onto the Hot 100... and honestly, it just feels like a net positive for the Hot 100 overall, which is always the bizarre feeling I have when we get a good album bomb. Sure, it reflects a skewed anomaly on the Hot 100 that isn't healthy... but I can argue that this one didn't even inflict much collateral damage after Young Thug last week, just sweeping away the wreckage! No, the real turmoil will come in two weeks when Post Malone crashes in, but that's a different conversation entirely...

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

video review: 'GINGER' by BROCKHAMPTON

And this happens - have to admit, I'm not sure how much disappointment will be wrung out of this, but certainly following iridescence it's a disappointment to me...

Anyway, Billboard BREAKDOWN is coming next, and then we'll get to Lana - stay tuned!

album review: 'GINGER' by BROCKHAMPTON

I'm worried about BROCKHAMPTON.

Which is a weird thing to say, given that thanks to their signing to RCA they've started to see significant market movement for their albums outside of their cult fanbase - all well and good, because I still hold iridescence as their best album thus far and easily earning its spot in my top 25 albums of 2018. But that was a project that felt transitional, and while there was always darkness between the lines on every BROCKHAMPTON project, here it was reflected in a fragility that made worry that the rushed push for a new album had pushed the band to the brink. And I know that's weird to say about a group that once put out three albums in a year, but creative burnout is a thing, especially when you have to push out a member for some damning allegations.

And thus I was utterly shocked that we were getting yet another BROCKHAMPTON album so quickly and this year - you'd think the group would take a few seconds to breathe and tour, especially with Kevin Abstract releasing a project of his own, but nope! And the reception from what I've seen has been... scattered, to say the least. Some have called it a return to Saturation-era form, others were noting the darkness had only deepened and was further fracturing their sound... but given how much I loved iridescence with multiple songs from it making my year-end list, I had expectations this time around. So what did BROCKHAMPTON deliver on GINGER?

video review: 'fear inoculum' by tool

And this is going exactly as I predicted... go figure.

Anyway, the disappointments might keep coming here - and this one is going to sting for me, so stay tuned?

Monday, September 2, 2019

album review: 'fear inoculum' by tool

So last year I made a fateful hot take tweet that Tool would never make another album - or even if they did, it would never live up to the expectations of fans. As of now, it seems like both statements are untrue, as there's a new Tool album and the fans seem overjoyed - hell, it might even be true for me... but that's more because I never had any expectations for Tool to begin with.

Yeah, let's get this out of the way now, I've danced around it for years and it should be on the record: I'm not much of a Tool fan. Of the "big four" in progressive metal, I've typically ranked Tool as my least favourite among Queensryche, Dream Theater, and Fates Warning, and revisiting their entire back catalog for this review has only cemented that opinion. And there's no easy way to approach this opinion in a way that won't piss off the legion of Tool fans - which if I had less tact, boy would I have words for that crowd - and let me stress that I get Tool's appeal and influence; it's just that most of appeal and influence doesn't work for me whatsoever. And I don't even think that should be surprising - you all know how much of a fan I am of melody and tight song construction, two things that Tool seems to treat with disinterest at best as they lock into extended polyrhythms amidst a load of dated alternative metal downtuning which is technically complex and impressive, but emotionally unengaging. And this would be where the band would point to the songwriting... which is the definition of two-dimensional, soaking in try-hard nihilism and abstraction - a shame because there can be a real emotional core and idea to some of these songs bowled over by hamfisted lyrical bluntness - and quasi-spiritual pseudoscience that either is more impressed with its cleverness than its depth or only bothers to make sense after several bowls and a handful of caps! And yet it's absolutely no surprise to me that Tool became by far the "biggest" of the big four coming out of the 90s - they certainly sound most 'of the time', and to their credit they're absolutely a band with a lot of talent that took risks, even if its not my thing I can appreciate what they were trying on a project like Lateralus, especially when they actually embraced some convincing heaviness - but it also put to mind a common observation: a lot of progressive metal fans are also Tool fans, but not nearly as often the other way around. 

And normally this wouldn't be an issue - I prefer the more tuneful side of prog metal and there's normally a ton of that, I can leave Tool's bloated song structures and edgelord deflection and sloppy vocal mixing for the fans - except that Tool has been influential, and while it's inaccurate to blame the spread of utterly tedious focus on polyrhythmic groove patterns and djent over melody through progressive metal on them, on a compositional and structural level they share some DNA. And then factor in the structural disinterest in hooks and concepts that don't hold up to much intellectual rigor, especially when channeled through increasingly blunt poetry... look, I wasn't cheering when Tool went on indefinite hiatus, but I wasn't exactly cheering for their return either. So with all of that context established and all the dislikes firmly given, what did we get out of Fear Inoculum?

resonators 2019 - episode #020 - 'deltron 3030' by deltron 3030 (VIDEO)

So I know I remain pretty much the only guy who cares about Resonators, but I'm genuinely pleased with how much I wound up loving this - fantastic hip-hop classic, so happy I got a chance to revisit it.

Especially considering my next review is bound to disappoint a lot of folks... yeah, stay tuned!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #020 - 'deltron 3030' by deltron 3030

Oh, we're going to get weird with this one.

But first, let me back up, because I've referenced this album in passing before in previous reviews but haven't really provided much context or history behind its strange, strange lineage, even though it might stand as damn near one of a kind even to this day, one of the few examples of a narrative-driven Afrofuturist hip-hop concept album, described by some as a rap opera. The producer is Dan the Automator, a California-based producer who by the late 90s had established his reputation through collaborations with DJ Shadow and especially Kool Keith, who had created his Dr. Octagon alter-ego and had released the celebrated if utterly demented concept album Dr. Octagonecologyst. This was the project that arguably won Dan the Automator the most initial attention for blending in organic instrumentation against Dr. Octagon's graphic iconography, which saw him garner the attention of De La Soul affiliate Prince Paul, who teamed up with him under the name Handsome Boy Modeling School for a 1999 project called So... How's Your Girl - unfortunately, it's as goofy and slapdash as it sounds. Then a year later he'd team up with Primal Scream for some production work - not the first nor last time he'd work with British acts, if you're familiar with one Damon Albarn's work in the 2000s - but he was still working with underground hip-hop acts as well...

Which takes us to Del The Funky Homosapien. The cousin of Ice Cube, he struck some commercial success in the very early 90s, but he wanted to go in a weirder direction with his second album... which despite some well-deserved critical acclaim promptly tanked, which saw him not release another solo album until 1997, which he mostly produced himself. But it was around this time he joined the hip-hop collective Hieroglyphics, who carved out their own critical acclaim in 1998 with 3rd Eye Vision, which I honestly hoped to cover before this as it's been on the voting block for some time now. But in the year 2000 in San Francisco, Del teamed up with Dan the Automator and DJ Kid Koala for a one-of-a-kind album that stands as a defiantly unique entry in underground hip-hop, even today. And while I expected I would cover this later rather than sooner, might as well tackle it now: so here we go, this is the self-titled album from Deltron 3030, and this is Resonators!

Saturday, August 31, 2019

video review: 'may the lord watch' by little brother / 'whatever usa' by hoodie allen / 'brandon banks' by maxo kream

And that should be the last of my vacation footage - special thanks to Hoodie Allen for showing a quick cameo at Reading Festival, he was certainly cool to let me film the review in front of him and the conversation afterwards was illuminating. For an act still running the independent hustle, I've got a ton of respect for his refinement.

In the mean time... no idea where to go next, we'll see - stay tuned!

Friday, August 30, 2019

video review: 'no man's land' by frank turner

And here we go - honestly, I was preparing to bucket this with another review in a vacation review structure, but I honestly just had way too much to say - enjoy!

Anyway, next up... frankly, I've got no idea - stay tuned!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

album review: 'no man's land' by frank turner

Am I the only one who feels like Frank Turner can't really win these days to save his life?

And yes, I'm fully aware that a chunk of that statement comes from me being a fan of the guy - hell, I was actually kinder to his 2018 album Be More Kind than pretty much everyone, a project balanced on the precipice of hopepunk and existential emptiness that sadly didn't have nearly as much of an edge as it really needs to secure that balance - there was a wonky stiffness and cleanness to his production and delivery that really hampered that project as a whole. But throughout the majority of the 2010s it's been hard for me to shake the feeling that for as much as Turner is trying desperately to do the right thing artistically, he's either stuck chasing past glories or is facing an increasingly unpleasable audience with sky-high expectations - most of the time both. And while I've been feeling this to some extent since at least Tape Deck Heart, it really came to bear with the backlash to Be More Kind, where Turner was trying to provide hope both to his audience and himself and it didn't seem like he pleased either... mostly because with the exception of the furious and potent '1933', the songs themselves were not his strongest by a long shot.

So I had to hope that No Man's Land would click this time - but again, it did seem like Turner was setting himself up to fail. A folk rock project full of songs celebrating the famous and forgotten women of history on the surface seemed like a winning idea, especially in this climate with his recruitment of plenty of women behind the scenes, but a more cynical 'progressive' audience already seemed to have their pitchforks on standby for his audacity to tell those stories - hell, from what I can tell the backlash to this was even stronger than to Be More Kind, it's his worst-reviewed project to date! So yeah, I was expecting the worst with this... and yet how was No Man's Land?

video review: 'lover' by taylor swift

Hmm, I'm a bit surprised this hasn't been received as being more contentious than it is... funny, that.

Anyway, I really think I have to give Frank Turner a full review next, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

album review: 'lover' by taylor swift

I want to stop overanalyzing Taylor Swift.

I mean, in theory it should be easy as hell - she makes mainstream-accessible pop music that shouldn't require or demand such in-depth analysis, it shouldn't be difficult to do so. And yet when I reviewed reputation in 2017, it wound up one of my most lengthy, overwritten pieces that still wound up as inconclusive on the album - and what's frustrating is that upon revisiting reputation, I still feel that way. I still think the flaws are too glaring to ignore - it's too long, it's self-indulgent without feeling truly self-critical, the sequencing is terrible, the bad songs are among the worst in her career - but at the same time there's depth and complexity that can't really be ignored.

And yes, a huge part of it is bigger than the music and can't really be extricated from the artist. Hell, if you want to make one of the most striking examples for never separating the art from the artist, it is Taylor Swift - the emotional power comes not just from the personal details and the relationship to her life, but then how they can translate to the every girl, or at least an increasingly broad representation of what that is. It's one big reason why both she and Drake have translated to a massive audience this decade - the detail and the personal vulnerability that anyone might connect to is what hooked the audience, their flaws and humanity are on display to the point where you wind up as the villain in your own stories where your moral justifications are increasingly flimsy, and the fact that despite all your control, your image becomes so big that it can be anything to anyone means that you're heading for a crisis of self. For Drake it's been the paranoia that has consumed his work since 2015 but especially on Views and Scorpion and for which there hasn't been a proper correction, for Taylor Swift it was the heavy subtext of alcohol abuse and trying to build an emotionally resonant story out of quicksand that was reputation, which is one reason I find that project so fascinating.

But you don't have to steer into the skid, and with the change in labels and slight adjustment in pop sound that came with the new singles - especially with the stark self-awareness that characterized 'The Archer', I had the hope that she had corrected - hell, I had the biggest hope in the longest of times that I might really like a Taylor Swift album, especially with the producers and guest stars behind her. So how about it, what did we get on Lover?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 31, 2019 (VIDEO)

And we're back on somewhat normal schedule. I do have a few reviews that will be shot in vacation format, but I think I might get to Taylor first... stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 31, 2019

Not to get hyperbolic about it, but it seems like the entire purpose of the Billboard Hot 100 charts this year has been to get me to look stupid. Sure, we got another new #1 this week that I predicted, but everyone has been calling that for weeks if not months, and yet just as soon as I was musing that this year has been quiet on the album bomb front, here comes Young Thug with a proper album leaving the Hot 100 in disarray. And yes, to get in front of this now, album bomb rules are in effect and will probably will remain in effect if Taylor Swift does the same next week, we'll have to see - I just got back from vacation, I have a ton of catching up to do, just hold tight on this one.

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 24, 2019 (VIDEO)

Ugh, here we go - messy Billboard BREAKDOWN while shot on vacation, thank fucking GOD I can shoot the next one at home... stay tuned!

video review: 'the center won't hold' by sleater-kinney / 'don't you think we've had enough' by bleached / 'how do you love?' by the regrettes

Okay, this actually turned out pretty decently - shame I couldn't quite get more vacation footage, but it does happen... enjoy!

video review: 'we are not your kind' by slipknot / 'CALIGULA' by lingua ignota / 'patterns of mythology' by falls of rauros

So yeah, I did miss out on posting a few videos and updates - I was on vacation, it happens - and in any case, I've got updates here now, so enjoy!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 17, 2019 (VIDEO)

So, lengthy episode, but I am happy I got to it all the same - good stuff!

Next up... well, I'm on vacation, so I'd venture over to my instagram to keep up to date on what's coming, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 17, 2019

You know, I should just give up making these sorts of predictions one of these days. Here I go thinking that we wouldn't get much of an impact this week, that things would slow down, some of it even based on the evidence that the last time Drake reissued a project - that being So Far Gone - it didn't hit the charts that strongly. And yet apparently just enough time as passed to get a sizable compliment to hit the Hot 100, along with a bunch of assorted pop country because Billboard wants to make my life difficult before I go on vacation - go figure.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

video review: 'i, i' by bon iver

Okay, here we go - this is one of those reviews I can imagine will be controversial... but eh, we'll see.

Next up is a really meaty episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN and then I'm venturing off on vacation - stay tuned!

Monday, August 12, 2019

album review: 'i, i' by bon iver

Alright, let's try this again.

So, Bon Iver, the primary venture for singer-songwriter-producer Justin Vernon and a rotating cast of players, and one of the critical darling acts that has never quite won me over. Don't get me wrong, for the most part I like this project, especially the more propulsive, windswept indie folk side that was instrumental in partially jumpstarting that movement in the late 2000s, but the more Bon Iver has ventured towards synthesized electronic music, the more I've been torn on them, respectful of the ambition but rarely satisfied with the results. I do think it's unfortunate that the first time I was talking about Bon Iver I was covering the project's worst album thus far by a considerable margin - that being 2016's 22, A Million, a project that wrapped itself in a lyrical tangle trying to parse the larger divisive world before scolding the audience for trying to understand it, along with some of the most scattershot, fragmented production yet - because I think it may have given off a more negative impression... but that doesn't mean I'm going to mince words here either. Hell, I was probably too nice to 22, A Million in retrospect.

And yet seemingly out of nowhere we had a new Bon Iver project, released three weeks early online and with Justin Vernon describing it as his most 'honest' and 'adult' album to date. What caught my attention was not only more producers allowed in the room, but also collaborators like James Blake and Aaron Dessner and even Bruce Hornsby - the latter shouldn't be that much of a surprise, given that he has worked with Vernon in the past, but still! And you know what, I really was hoping this would turn into something special, so what did Bon Iver deliver this time?

video review: 'first taste' by ty segall

Okay, this was a bit of a letdown and I'm already seeing the backlash creep in... though I don't think I'm wrong with this one, just saying...

Anyway, I've got my meaty challenge cut out for me next: Bon Iver. Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

album review: 'first taste' by ty segall

I'll be very honest, I thought Ty Segall had run out of ways to surprise me. 

Granted, for a guy who cranks out as many albums as he does, I was open to the possibility, but even with the return to form that was Freedom's Goblin last year, I really thought that was testing the boundaries of how far Ty Segall was going to venture out of his comfort zone: ground himself in garage rock scuzz, tack on some added instrumentation venturing into other subsets of proto-punk, early metal, and even glam around that era, but likely not venture much further. I thought he'd probably stay in this territory, maybe tighten up the writing and production, and he'd have enough fertile ground to harvest for... well, given how quickly he releases albums, another three years or so.

So I'll admit when I heard that his newest album First Taste was ditching guitars altogether... well, it reminded me at first of when news broke the Mountain Goats were leaving guitars behind for Goths, but even then singer-songwriter material like that had proven ground to expand, whereas I'm not sure I can count many garage rock acts that don't have a guitar lead! So I had no unearthly clue how he was going to tack on strings and keyboards to make this work, but I definitely wanted to hear it - so okay, what came out of First Taste?

Friday, August 9, 2019

video review: 'cheap silver and solid country gold' by mike and the moonpies

Well damn, this came right the fuck out of nowhere! Great project, absolutely worth hearing, make time to check it out!

Next up... honest to god, not sure, I'm going to be out of town this weekend, so we'll see what happens soon - stay tuned!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

album review: 'cheap silver and solid country gold' by mike and the moonpies

So fun question: if you're an indie country act who puts out an album that only your diehard fanbase hears about, does that count as a 'surprise' album?

Okay, snark aside, I did not see this coming: I figured after Steak Night At The Prairie Rose, we might not hear from Mike and the Moonpies for a little bit as they started slowly building their groundswell outside of their native Texas. And at least to me that made sense - even despite the feeling that Texas country was building a more defined mainstream or at least mainstream-adjacent place in recent years, planning this sort of expansion might take some time - and hell, even in the indie scene country doesn't move at the same pace as trap or pop, they probably could have afforded to take their time.

And yet with this project, Mike and the Moonpies didn't just deliver more of the same - which given their strengths and a reportedly terrific live show, they probably could have and the indie country set would have been just fine. Instead they flew out to the U.K. and recorded with the London Symphony a short selection of songs that they released the same day as Tyler Childers and damn near flew under the radar of everyone except the indie country set, who promptly lost their shit over it. And considering one of my criticisms of the group was that they were perhaps a little too set in a traditional sound, I did get excited to hear this, so let's not waste time: what did we get on Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold?

video review: 'country squire' by tyler childers

Yeah, I wanted to like this a lot more than I did... eh, it happens.

On the plus side, I found a surprise country album that actually dropped the same day that wound up being way more up my alley - stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

album review: 'country squire' by tyler childers

You know, I keep looking back on the last two years of Patreon scheduling with some degree of exasperation - nothing against you guys, a huge part of the problem was me taking on way too much without a clear way of focusing or managing it, but it also meant that I just missed covering acts that you'd think would have been on my radar. And when you build a reputation for covering a lot of indie country and for some reason you don't cover an act who is building a ton of hype and groundswell... well, I'm not sure how many cared, but I certainly felt exasperated about it.

Such was the case with Purgatory, the long-awaited sophomore album from Kentucky native Tyler Childers that was released in 2017 that caught the indie country scene by storm, thanks mostly to a defiantly country palette full of ragged fiddle and a notable production credit from Sturgill Simpson. It was loose and raw and sleazy but in the right way, rife with flavour that just felt a step away from greatness for me thanks to feeling a bit underwritten and meandering at points - good thematic cohesion and it did grow on me with repeated listens, but it probably wouldn't have made my year-end list in 2017, but also Childers was definitely someone worth keeping an eye on. And his buzz caught fire in a big way, nabbing him a major label deal on RCA on the condition he'd maintain artistic freedom - which to me was a very positive sign, all the more evidence that any courting of Nashville radio is something the indie scene just doesn't care about; hell, that album cover should make that plain enough! So okay, let's make up for some lost time here, what did Tyler Childers deliver on Country Squire?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 10, 2019 (VIDEO)

Okay, here we go - bit of a wonky episode, all things considered, but overall pretty good - enjoy!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 10, 2019

Am I the only one who thinks that this year has just felt like an extended cooldown from the chaos of 2018, where it felt like the chart was facing upheavals every other week? Of course, some of that stability on top has to trickle down, but some of it feels rooted in a summer that feels increasingly listless and bereft of impact releases, true album bombs to shake the charts - yeah, we got a few songs from Chance The Rapper this week, but not the tidal wave we would have seen last year.

Monday, August 5, 2019

the top ten worst hit songs of 2012 (VIDEO)

A long time coming, but I'm actually really pleased how well this turned out - enjoy!

the top ten worst hit songs of 2012

So I've said before that 2012 is probably among the best years of the Hot 100 this decade, and I stand by that - there was a plethora of fantastic songs, both well-remembered stalwarts and forgotten gems, and multiple genres were in the throes of transition, which gave indie music a breakthrough window to the benefit of everyone. Pop, rock, R&B, hip-hop, country, they all notched real success and were above average overall, all of which bolstered the fact that there's just not that many awful songs this year. And even if they were here, by the overall standards of any other year, they didn't seem that terrible - more grating production choices and sloppy writing than anything offensive or in overwhelmingly bad taste. I could get angry at the worst of 2016 - for the majority of the list, I can laugh at the worst in 2012.

But we did get bad songs, and it's worth pointing out where they came from... and really, most of them are clustered in saccharine music across pop, pop-country and adult alternative that just utterly missed the point, or in hip-hop where the genre was going through a transitional year between pop rap club bangers and what would become the darker, heavier trap sounds throughout the decade. And it wasn't helped by a few artists in particular having a bad year in 2012 specifically, but I think it's time we get to the list proper. As per usual, the songs had to debut on this year-end list to qualify - so 'Sexy & I Know It' is reserved for 2011 - and if you previously saw my worst hits of 2012 originally published on my blog that year, I recommend you stick around regardless, as things have shifted a little bit. 

Okay, got that? So without further adieu, let's dig into a year that for the most part wasn't really that bad, starting with...

Friday, August 2, 2019

video review: 'the lost boy' by ybn cordae

And here we go - honestly a good surprise with this one, although I think YBN Cordae has some steps to go to hit greatness. He'll definitely get there, though.

Next up... it looks like a pretty light week ahead, which means back catalog and maybe a year-end list over the long weekend... stay tuned!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

album review: 'the lost boy' by ybn cordae

I'll admit I'm a little surprised I'm choosing to cover this project.

See, I try to keep my ear to the ground when it comes to certain rap crews, but there are others that I've missed the boat on. One of them in the early 2000s was A$AP Mob, but in recent years it feels like it's been the YBN crew. Part of this is another sprawling lineup that seems to be more hype than with credible music to back it up, but another part was the YBN Nahmir song 'Rubbin Off The Paint' which was fine, but not all that interesting. And given that he was considered one of the leaders, I didn't have a ton of incentive to check out YBN Cordae if that was what the crew was going to deliver.

But then he kept showing up - and spitting his ass off. One of the sole saving graces on the last Logic album, a few other scattered features, nabbing enough buzz to hit the XXL Freshman list this year and with a freestyle good enough to drive momentum into an upcoming album on a major label deal with Atlantic, I figured why not - could wind up interesting, so what did we get from YBN Cordae on The Lost Boy?

video review: 'fever dream' by of monsters and men

And here we are - better than I expected, to be honest, thought I really wish this band would get a different producer so we'd actually get some different texture and depth.

Anyway, next up... hmm, we'll see. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

album review: 'fever dream' by of monsters and men

...do any of you remember the debut breakthrough for Of Monsters And Men?

I certainly do - mostly because it felt really weird! Here was a band that released their debut in 2011, riding the success of crossover smash 'Little Talks', which I could argue is one of the best hits of the 2010s. And while most people only really knew Of Monsters And Men as a one-hit wonder curiosity, I'd argue that's a really unfortunate characterization of a pretty unique indie folk act, working dual vocals with a ton of melodic flourishes, diverse instrumentation, and songwriting that took a primal approach to heavy subject matter. In the era of Mumford & Sons, Of Monster And Men were more wild and untamed and took way more chances... so maybe it wasn't a good thing that it took until 2015 for them to release a sophomore follow-up. Granted, it didn't help matters that Beneath The Skin didn't really measure up to the hype - the singles didn't move in the same way, the production took steps towards conventionality to dilute a somewhat unique approach, and the writing just didn't have the same punch, leading to a good album but not a great one. And I'll admit it led to a lot of trepidation for the newest album FEVER DREAM, dropping another four years later when any sparks of that indie folk boom are long dead - and more alarmingly, while I had people asking me to cover Beneath The Skin, I got no requests to cover FEVER DREAM. But screw it, I still like this band, there had to be something here, right?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 3, 2019 (VIDEO)

Honestly, it was a tumultuous last evening, but I'm happy to be highlighting it all the same.

Next up... still not sure what I'm covering, but we'll have to see. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 3, 2019

...am I the only one feeling a bit of anticlimax this week? Yeah, we'll be getting to the biggest story in a second - and make no mistake, it's huge, and the sort of story that only serves to make my predictions look questionable - but it wasn't a desperate race to the end or something where the record was broken by the skin of someone's teeth. At least to me it became clear that nothing was going to seriously defeat the margin our contender racked up, and once that happened... well, it was just a matter of momentum.

video review: 'the big day' by chance the rapper

So yeah, this wound up kind of controversial... but yeah, stand by it, this album is nowhere close to being as bad as someone have made it out to be - enjoy!

Anyway, Billboard BREAKDOWN is up next and then I'm tempted to go on a bit of a hip-hop kick, it'll depend what'll eventually hit the Trailing Edge. So yeah, stay tuned!

Monday, July 29, 2019

album review: 'the big day' by chance the rapper

Okay, no, I'm not doing this, I get how Chance The Rapper is framing this marketing, but after multiple projects and charting hits, it feels patently absurd to call this his 'debut album', especially given the layers of technicality around it.

But I'll be honest, it's been very par-for-the-course with my experience with Chance The Rapper, an artist I definitely like and who has made my year-end list before with specific songs that tap into an organic emotionality that feels very genuine... until you notice the mechanisms around him. Part of this is great business sense and an independent hustle in a distinctive lane, and for that I'll give him all the credit in the world... but at least for me whenever I've seen the artifice behind his relentless positivity it has felt increasingly hollow to me, be it from hypocrisy or slapdash construction, either in content or production. People have described his material, especially the stuff that leans towards gospel, as 'Disney', and it's not inaccurate: rougher around the edges, but there is some of that sheen that can feel disingenuous the brighter it comes across.

And thus I felt skeptical about this new project The Big Day, which I hoped would be a steady improvement but left me feeling disconcerted when I saw twenty-two tracks at nearly eighty minutes - that's a lot of Chance and I had serious concerns whether his particular style would be able to sustain that sort of length, especially given his uncredited features were as sprawling as Megan Thee Stallion and DaBaby to Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie, Shawn Mendes, and Randy Newman, not to mention multiple Nicki Minaj features for some reason! But hey, I had to hope Chance didn't stretch this out purely for stream trolling - he's still independent, after all - and maybe this could be the epic swing for the fences that could stick the landing, so what did we get on The Big Day?

resonators 2019 - episode #019 - 'operation doomsday' by MF DOOM (VIDEO)

And for once we've got an episode of Resonators out early - and it's a classic album deserving of the title for once, so enjoy!

video review: 'planetary clairvoyance' by tomb mold

And while death metal is not normally my thing, this kicks a lot of ass! Enjoy!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

video review: 'king's mouth' by the flaming lips

I kept forgetting to repost the videos here... eh, last week was nuts. Anyway, enjoy!

resonators 2019 - episode #019 - 'operation doomsday' by MF DOOM

So normally in the course of this series I try to get a bit cute and set the scene without really mentioning the names or album I'm discussing until the title drop... but there's a time when you just can't do that and this is one of those cases...

Because his name is MF DOOM.

And while at this point his legacy is plenty secure - although you could argue his run through the late 90s and early 2000s even today does not get the credit or acclaim it deserves - it's worthwhile going back even further to set the scene, back to the early 90s where MF DOOM was making music under the alias Zev Love X in the trio KMD, who wound up getting picked up by Elektra and releasing their debut in 1991, which even had a smattering of singles success. But then a score of tragedies hit: his younger brother and fellow KMD member DJ Subroc was killed in a car accident and their second album Black Bastards was shelved given the far darker content and questionable album art - which in the face of gangsta rap on the horizon is the sort of stupid irony for which someone should have pushed out of Elektra. And that person wound up being Zev Love X, who was given $20,000 and the master tapes of Black Bastards to leave Elektra - again, seems like a real brain trust over there in hindsight, especially given how Black Bastards became one of the most heavily bootlegged underground rap projects of the mid-90s. But that was small consolation, as Zev Love X retreated from hip-hop in the gangsta rap era, damn near homeless in New York City even as his legacy grew...

Fast-forward to 1997 - mainstream and underground hip-hop were splitting in two, and in Manhattan MF DOOM was slowly returning to rap through freestyling. He would soon utilize the infamous Doctor Doom mask to enhance his air of mystery and then sign to Fondle 'Em Records, a now-defunct indie label founded by radio personality Bobbito Garcia, a longtime friend of MF DOOM from the KMD days and who was instrumental in finally giving Black Bastards a proper release in 1998. Despite being founded as basically a running joke, at least for a short time Fondle 'Em would go along with Rawkus as one of the premier New York indie labels, with early releases for the Juggaknots and Cage, but with the first few singles, MF DOOM was the breakthrough, and it would lead to one of the most celebrated underground debuts in hip-hop: that's right, it's Operation Doomsday by MF DOOM, and this is Resonators!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

album review: 'planetary clairvoyance' by tomb mold

So I've said this before, I'll say it again: I'm not the biggest death metal fan - at all. Doesn't mean I can't recognize it or won't listen to it if it's playing, but as a subgenre of metal, it's never quite been my thing. And I've asked myself why a couple of times - if I'm not into the technical stuff, that's one thing, but melodic death metal is a thing that exists, and I've heard a decent bit of it, surely there's a middle ground and inroad for me to start hearing more of the genre.

Well, believe it or not, there is one death metal band I enjoy a considerable bit - all the more ironic because they aren't really perceived as one of the softer acts in the subgenre, with more of the comparisons trending towards a more rough-edged classic death metal with slightly filthier production: Tomb Mold. And I'm genuinely not sure what it is - I'm sure a part of it is tied to them being Canadian and thus me having seen them live about three or four times - and they're phenomenal live - but they managed to hit the sweet spot where they've got a genuine tunefulness in their composition, decent enough writing, and yet a chugging thickness across the board that doesn't sound blown out or chasing cheaply produced abrasion - there are levels of organic depth and pummeling presence to their sound that is entirely up my alley. And sure, Manor Of infinite Forms did clean things up a little to draw more attention to their excellent lead work, and you can always make the argument the group is a little one-dimensional and meat-and-potatoes - they are - but again, I'm not a death metal fan and there's something here that clicks. So I genuinely wanted to give their newest album Planetary Clairvoyance a spin, especially as some were calling it their best to date... so what did we get?

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

album review: 'king's mouth' by the flaming lips

I was nearly done with The Flaming Lips.

Seriously, I was - I may have been way more forgiving to a project like The Terror than anyone should have been, but between Wayne Coyne's questionable antics, the mess of work done with Miley Cyrus that sucked, and the undercooked, badly produced mush that was Oczy Mlody that I was probably way kinder to than I should have been, I was nearly out of patience. Hell, I started my last review with the line, "when did you stop liking the Flaming Lips"!

And yet here I am, willing to give them another chance with King's Mouth, which many have described as a genuine return to form and was released on vinyl in April of this year, only now getting a digital release. And I had reason to believe this could be good - Dave Fridmann was no longer producing with the band handling the majority of it in house, and after the mess he delivered on the last Baroness album that was only going to be a plus - and as far as I can tell this is their shortest-ever full-length project. Hell, I even saw comparisons made to Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and other projects from The Flaming Lips' glory years, I had every reason to hope... so did The Flaming Lips win me back with King's Mouth?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 27, 2019 (VIDEO)

Man, this was an interesting week - I think next week is going to be wild, but we'll have to see...

In the mean time, looks like I'll have the Flaming Lips next, but I've also got Rock Coliseum tonight, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 27, 2019

Let's be honest: there's one primary narrative going into this week. I could talk about the mini-album bomb unleashed by Ed Sheeran, or the other scattered arrivals, but the reason anyone is paying attention to the Billboard Hot 100 right now, be you in the music industry or outside of it, is the race at the very top, where a record is being tested as we speak and barring any unforeseen circumstances could be broken next week... and all from a track that I thought would flame out in a week or less, goes to show how much I know!