Tuesday, July 23, 2019

video review: 'order in decline' by sum 41


So yeah, this was a nice pleasant surprise here, good stuff.

Anyway, next up is Billboard BREAKDOWN, but what to be next... stay tuned!

Monday, July 22, 2019

album review: 'order in decline' by sum 41

I think a lot of Canadians have a weird relationship to Sum 41.

Hell, given this is the first time I'm talking about the band... I think pretty much ever, mostly because I'd describe myself as a casual fan at best, Sum 41 is one of those breakthrough punk acts in the early 2000s that might have notched a few singles in the U.S. but were damn near ubiquitous in Canada, to the point when I went through an old greatest hits compilation I was stunned how many songs I knew from memory. But that was the rub with Sum 41: for me they've always been more of a singles band who drilled into insanely catchy hooks and infectious energy more than consistent refinement, especially lyrically. And hey, a blunt wallop can be fine for a shot of adrenaline on the radio, or even for a surprisingly raucous crossover metal song, but Sum 41 also had a tendency to overreach into ballads of questionable quality or political subject matter that where the writing occasionally had more heart than focus. So when even Canadian audiences lost track of them... I'll be honest, I didn't even notice they were gone.

But by 2016, with the band now on an indie label and long out of an obligation to court radio play - plus the return of their original lead guitarist to make them a five piece act - the band regained some critical attention on their album 13 Voices that year, which signaled a slow shift to a darker, more melodic hardcore and alternative metal-leaning sound that wasn't precisely great but was more likable than I expected. And when I heard the group was getting even darker, heavier, and more political on their newest album... look, it's always a little weird to see Canadian punks write about American politics, but apparently they weren't going to snub some of the toxicity leaking in up here, so hell yeah I was interested, especially given how the band didn't seem interested at all on coasting on nostalgia. So okay, I'm intrigued and a little stunned that I'm doing this, but what did we get from Sum 41 on Order In Decline?

video review: 'singular: act ii' by sabrina carpenter


Ehhh... look, it was a quick one to knock off my list, happy I got it done.

Next up, something I'm actually more interested in dissecting - stay tuned!

Sunday, July 21, 2019

album review: 'singular: act ii' by sabrina carpenter

Alright, round two, shall we?

Now for those of you unawares, this will be my second time covering a Sabrina Carpenter project, as I reviewed Act I of this series last year - and to my mild surprise, got a fair amount of traffic - and backlash - for it. And while some of this might be rooted in me just having heard too much of this style of pop before - not helped by being stuck on Hollywood Records where this sound has been utterly recycled and poorly produced time and time again - there were still blatant parallels to mainstream acts that Carpenter was mimicking, and not particularly well. And like with most vanity projects - which especially if you considered the content of the last project it felt like it was - it was made to serve the fanbase and nobody else, but I had to think she could try a little harder for some originality than this!

But hey, apparently she's still putting out projects with this being part two, and folks kept on requesting it even despite the last review, and it is short enough to make for a quick review while I crunch through meatier projects, so what did we get Singular: Act II?

Thursday, July 18, 2019

video review: 'big k.r.i.t. iz here' by big k.r.i.t.


Alright, another mild disappointment, it happens I guess...

Anyway, next up... well, I had plans for something, but they might have to change for tomorrow, we'll see - stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

album review: 'big k.r.i.t. iz here' by big k.r.i.t.

So I'll be very honest, folks: when I heard where Big K.R.I.T. was planning to go with this new project, my level of surprise was split between "greatly" and "not at all". 

Because on the one hand, hearing that Big K.R.I.T. was trying to make a mainstream-accessible trap album seemed like the last thing you would have expected from him - I get that Def Jam royally mismanaged your deal and promotion and your music has always had crossover potential, but why in the Nine Hells would you go independent to just release the same style of music in an over-saturated subgenre of rap? Especially coming off of 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time, you'd have thought that Big K.R.I.T. would delve further into experimental territory that the label would balk at, not release another album for the pile that would wind up getting overshadowed by acts in the same subgenre with better distribution and publicity!

But on the other hand, I do get it - trap is a variant of southern hip-hop, and Big K.R.I.T. has always been one to point that out in how the style has been co-opted by other regions and even genres time and time again. So in essence if he was going to try and make the definitive trap album to put everyone else to shame, frame it as a sequel to his 2010 mixtape... well, it wouldn't be how I'd best push his talents and versatility, but I'd understand the appeal, especially if he was looking to flesh out his setlist for any festivals ahead. I was a lot more alarmed that it didn't look like he had any production credits this time around and had included a few songs from earlier mixtapes here - seemed like a questionable move for a guy whose projects always ran long - but fine, what did we get from Big K.R.I.T. Iz Here?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 20, 2019 (VIDEO)


Okay, so a bit of a rough episode, but it resolved alright enough...

Anyway, back to disappointments - stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 20, 2019

So am I the only one who feels like all the album bombs I've been predicting just are not happening in the same way they used to? Maybe it's a matter of diminished hype or maybe the charts hitting equilibrium surrounding streaming so that larger numbers are demanded to break through, or hell, maybe it's just a lack of the truly big names shaking up the charts, but I was expecting impact from Dreamville and while we got a couple of songs, it really wasn't that many, which led to another slow week this summer for which I'm not complaining, but still seems bizarre.

video review: 'showboat honey' by kyle craft & showboat honey


So yeah, this isn't great... but it is still good and worth a few listens, so definitely give it a chance, I think Kyle Craft has real potential regardless if they iron out the kinks.

And before we get to the next possible disappointment, let's handle Billboard BREAKDOWN next, so stay tuned!

Monday, July 15, 2019

album review: 'showboat honey' by kyle craft & showboat honey

I feel like I should be less surprised we already have a new Kyle Craft album.

And here's the thing: when you look at how much music Kyle Craft has put out in the past couple of years, it shouldn't be surprising, given how between Dolls Of Highland and Full Circle Nightmare he did put out a covers project, and given that he now has a full backing band called Showboat Honey, it makes sense that he'd want to have something for the general public sooner rather than later. And of course I wasn't about to complain: Kyle Craft has been one of the most startling breakout talents in the 2010s and his two albums of original material have been in my top 10 for their respective years - a huge voice, a distinctive instrumental style, and some of the best writing you'll get in rock - period.

That said, when artists start churning out projects every year, I get worried that the content and refinement might suffer, and given how potent Kyle Craft is as a writer, I genuinely wondered if he'd have enough fresh material. But apparently he and his band were working at such a pace that apparently he had an album ready even earlier, but then a quick gut check moment had him step back and record another project full of material, which from there the best songs were chosen. What was even more promising, at least to me, was the fact that Craft had apparently brought back some of the recording and production style he had back on Dolls Of Highland, my one serious nitpick from the last album, so this could well kick a lot of ass too. So alright, he's not wasting time and neither should I - what did Kyle Craft deliver with Showboat Honey?

video review: 'no.6 collaborations project' by ed sheeran


Hmm, a little surprised by how well this is getting received... guess the benefit of low expectations will take something a long way...?

But on the flip side, speaking of expectations... yeah, that's coming tonight, stay tuned!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

album review: 'no.6 collaborations project' by ed sheeran

So I brought this up originally on Billboard BREAKDOWN a month or so ago and I think it's important to state it here to provide some context: sometimes if you're an artist and you finally get the clout, popularity, and influence to create your dream project, it's worthwhile going back to when you first conceived of this dream and ask whether it was a good idea to begin with. I'm not saying this is an easy task - it demands self-awareness, the willingness to acknowledge your roots but also how far you've come, and will likely not be helped by the crowd of enablers you've accumulated thanks to your success - but it's one worth doing.

Now if you're an Ed Sheeran fan at this point you're probably a bit scandalized - he's proven himself time and time again that he can work with other acts, from writing to singing alongside them, why shouldn't he be allowed to curate a massive collaborative venture as a natural expansion from the EP he self-released in 2011? And if me saying that out loud didn't highlight at least some level of ridiculousness to this whole affair, it should come in understand what No.5 Collaborations Project was, an independent fusion of his brand of pop folk with a slew of grime acts that are not common names stateside. And while it becomes abundantly obvious that Ed Sheeran's writing has tightened up considerably since the beginning of the decade... well, it's leaner and darker and surprisingly cohesive, something that I didn't expect at all would be the case for this new album, which spans from Justin Bieber to Eminem, Stormzy to Skrillex, Chris Stapleton to Young Thug and Cardi B! And given that I've had kind of mixed results with the singles he's released thus far... look, I expected this to be a mess, or at the very least nowhere close to his best - when you have too many cooks in the kitchen, that happens. But okay, what did we get from No.6 Collaborations Project?

Saturday, July 13, 2019

video review: 'schlagenheim' by black midi


And here we go, a project that I'm genuinely surprised I liked as much as I did, but am very pleased that I got to cover it. 

Next up... okay, let's handle Ed Sheeran next - stay tuned!

Friday, July 12, 2019

album review: 'schlagenheim' by black midi

So full disclosure, the reason I'm choosing to cover this is exactly what you think it is: it got a ton of acclaim from critics I otherwise trust, and on a slow week, I figured I might as well knock it off my list. That also meant I could be setting myself up for that kind of album that I'm lukewarm on and everyone else loves, but hey, that seems to have been the running theme for most of 2019, so why not keep it up!

Anyway, black midi - English post-punk/noise rock group that seems to play fast and loose with genres, formed in 2015, released a couple of singles, performed at SXSW in 2018, got signed to Rough Trade, and now we have a debut album. Again, this is a project for which I'm going in cold and a little perturbed about what we could get with this: I kept hearing 'no wave' and 'math rock' show up in discussions of the debut with a very distinctly German-sounding name which translates to 'hit home', and I'm not the biggest fan of either genre. And the producer Dan Carey didn't really enthuse me either - I know him most for producing the worst Franz Ferdinand album Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, but other than that... again, going in cold here, so let's not waste any more time: what did black midi deliver with Schlagenheim?

Thursday, July 11, 2019

video review: 'veteran' by JPEGMAFIA (6th year anniversary)


A little late posting this, but I will say that I'm grateful for all of y'all who have stuck around to read and follow this - thanks again!

Next up, let's knock something out of my backlog before I start with the week ahead, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

album review: 'veteran' by JPEGMAFIA (6th year anniversary)

Well, this won by a landslide this year. Seriously, it was not very close whatsoever, the only close competition had about half as many votes and that was Twin Fantasy by Car Seat Headrest - don't worry fans, I'll be handling the next Will Toledo album when he puts it out, I've just never been all that interested in covering a remake of a project I heard years ago.

But in a sense, I'm a little baffled why I didn't cover JPEGMAFIA early in 2018. I think part of it might have been rooted in how the Patreon scheduling got out of hand and I just couldn't find time to tackle it - one of the reasons I did shelve it for 2019 but may bring it back in the future with a little more containment and structure - but for another, what I did heard of JPEGMAFIA I was more wary of than outright positive. Because I actually did go back to his earlier projects and my issues weren't due to the experimentation - taking a slightly more jagged, offkilter approach to slightly more conventional tones adjacent to an act like clipping - but more to the content, which seemed to land in a strange sort of very Internet/meme culture political provocation, which meant that certain points of insight and transgression struck some weird notes, at least for me; definitely an acquired taste. And that's not even getting into the messy controversy surrounding his now infamous song 'I Just Killed A Cop Now I'm Horny', in which actual audio of a policeman being killed was mixed into the song and which requires a pretty layered conversation surrounding transgression, art, and the modern cultural role of police that probably deserves to come up at a later date. And when you factor in some structural issues and a hit-and-miss record for hooks or groove, I can see how his first two projects - Black Ben Carson and The Second Amendment - might not have gotten the same universal acclaim that Veteran did two years later, although I would say Black Ben Carson has a certain nightmarish, amorphous quality that reminds me of B. Dolan's The Failure - and I intend that as a compliment, I do think it's a surprisingly compelling and pretty great album. But from the outside, Veteran did look to be the most streamlined project to date and certainly getting the most critical acclaim in experimental hip-hop, so I was open to this kicking ass: so how about it, going back to 2018, was Veteran worth it?

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 13, 2019


Okay, bit of a slower week, but kind of a mess too...

Anyway, tomorrow is the sixth year anniversary, and I've got something fun planned, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 13, 2019

Am I the only one who thinks that we all dodged a bullet this week? I figured there was a real possibility that given the sparse set of releases we could get something disruptive and unpleasant like a week full of Chris Brown, but he only managed to lodge one new song on the Hot 100 and otherwise... looks like a pretty relaxed week. Not precisely a great one, but thankfully a bit slower.

Monday, July 8, 2019

video review: 'revenge of the dreamers iii' by dreamville


Well, this was a mess... but if you had heard the past two compilations from this label, it shouldn't be that surprising.

Anyway, I've got my sixth year anniversary come up on Wednesday, but first, Billboard BREAKDOWN - stay tuned!

album review: 'revenge of the dreamers iii' by dreamville

So I don't tend to cover label or posse collaborations projects, and believe it or not, I actually do have a reason. They're rarely focused or well-curated, the spread of talent isn't all that consistent, and it can be tough to pin down the exact mood of the thing, especially if you've got a collaboration with a bunch of bonafide spitters. Because on the one hand, they're trying to go bar-for-bar and there's some level of intensity... but on the other hand, it's all supposed to be casual and making a few moments of magic in the studio while you pass the blunt around, which can lead to some real tonal dissonance.

And if anything, I expected that to be all the more pronounced on the newest Dreamville collaboration. Now full disclosure, I did go back to hear the first two, and while they both had some striking moments, it was exactly what you'd expect from a label headed up by J. Cole, where in addition to my other issues, the early criticism is that a lot of his acts either sounded like him or were R&B singers - not always the best thing when the songs started losing focus. And given that I'm not the biggest J. Cole fan by any metric, I didn't have high expectations for Revenge Of The Dreamers III - yeah, J. Cole is in a very different space than he was in 2015 and he has a more diverse and well-rounded group around him, but I hadn't been impressed by the song that had charted and I wasn't really buying into the hype. Sure, it's longer - have to get those streams somehow - but isn't the point of a label collaboration to emphasize and promote that talent, not bring in guest appearances from over a dozen other acts?

But fine, this is going to be one of those overblown collaborations trying to simultaneously create hype and sound relaxed and creative, so again, low expectations... but what did we get out of Revenge Of The Dreamers III?

Sunday, July 7, 2019

video review: 'scared of you' by laura imbruglia


Well okay, I was way late to the party with this one... but yeah, special type of indie rock, and she's entirely independent and deserves a lot of attention.

But now onto something way more hyped... stay tuned!

album review: 'scared of you' by laura imbruglia

I can imagine that some of you are looking at this review and have questions. For one, if you follow me on Instagram you've probably seen this album on my schedule and are thinking, 'Wait, wasn't this supposed to be on the Trailing Edge?', or you're seeing the name of the artist and if you know the 90s at all you might be thinking, 'Wait, she's got a new album?'.

And I'm here to say that, in your own way, you're both wrong. For one, you're probably thinking of Natalie Imbruglia, most well-known for her 90s staple 'Torn', and while Laura Imbruglia is related, her music has been way more interesting this past decade and is our primary focus here. For one, Laura Imbruglia has been far more punk in her releases, and while she may have had a famous older sister that might have opened doors for her in the industry, the sound she was pursuing would have slammed those doors in her face, embracing an artsier side of punk rock, indie rock, and even alternative country, complete with a distinctly Australian jagged side that led to weirder song constructions and lyrics that took more chances. Yeah, her back catalog is uneven - mostly on the country side where her song structures got a bit more conventional but not always to her benefit - but for the past fifteen or so years she's been working in the indie circuit and the albums have been well-written, nuanced, and incredibly catchy. And since this is her first album since 2013, I wanted to give it some airtime even if it was going to wind up on the  Trailing Edge, so what did I find in Scared Of You?

Saturday, July 6, 2019

trailing edge - episode 014 - april-june 2019 (VIDEO)


Okay, long time overdue to get this done, but I'm happy it's here.

Next up... probably handling Thom Yorke if I don't put him on the Trailing Edge, and then Dreamville - stay tuned!

Thursday, July 4, 2019

video review: "let's rock!" by the black keys


So yeah, slightly complicated feelings on this one, but I did wind up mostly liking it a fair bit more than I thought I would. Huh, go figure.

Anyway, I think it's about time I get the Trailing Edge out the door before I handle Thom Yorke, so stay tuned!

album review: "let's rock!" by the black keys

The last time I reviewed The Black Keys was five years ago, when I covered Turn Blue - and I can't be the only one who thinks that some of the backlash I've received even from the fans in hindsight might be undeserved.

Because I did get backlash when I covered Turn Blue, one of those cases where I was lukewarm on a project that nowadays is widely held as one of The Black Keys' weakest albums, the culmination of the sour, desaturated tones that Brian Burton had been giving them for years and lyrics that actually probably don't get enough credit but still culminated in an unpleasantly cohesive experience. But that album is something of an outlier to The Black Keys' formula, and for many folks' first exposure to me talking about the band, it might have presented a skewed picture. As I've said before, every guy of my generation or older will have a Black Keys phase, and mine lasted about three months - they've got a great knack for scuzzed out melody and hooks that Burton to his credit was able to ramp up, but as songwriters they frequently tested my patience and the decidedly mercenary approach they took to churning out albums led to some wild variance in quality. 

So I'll admit I actually had some expectations for this new project, "Let's Rock!", not just because Brian Burton was not producing it, but also how given the band's long absence, the sound and ideas could be revitalized. Granted, I didn't expect greatness - for me the band hasn't been consistently great since Thickfreakness or Rubber Factory - but hey, the group is coming off their worst album thus far, I had some hopes: so what did we get from "Let's Rock!"?

video review: 'bandana' by freddie gibbs & madlib


Well, this was... frustrating to some extent? A great album, to be sure, but with the sort of expectations it had, I'm not surprised why it felt a little disappointing overall.

Anyway, next up is something that has no expectations and is bound to be fun to talk about - stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

album review: 'bandana' by freddie gibbs & madlib

I'm genuinely curious how many people remembered the narratives surrounding Freddie Gibbs five years ago.

Because while he was respected by those in the know, you could make the argument his profile had suffered or been marginalized by the split with Jeezy and his debut album ESGN not really hitting as strongly as it should after a string of well-received mixtapes. And while there had been some build-up for his collaboration with Madlib through a couple of scattered singles, there was considerable skepticism, because Madlib does not make easy beats to ride, and his sample-heavy, claustrophobic, and occasionally lo-fi production did not match anything close to the trap for which Gibbs was known.

And while hindsight is 20/20 and in the wake of Pinata being one of the best rap albums of the decade it's easy to say that Freddie Gibbs had just been criminally underrated, I think it's important to highlight how much he has stepped up his skills in the past five years. Not only did his lyricism improve by leaps and bounds but so did his flow and structure and command of melody, and while his past couple projects I've been lukewarm to positive on - the one I didn't review was Fetti and while I was cool on that, it's more because I'm not really a big fan of Curren$y - the hype for his return to working with Madlib was considerable, especially considering the guest talent he was recruiting along the way. Pusha-T was obvious - they play in the same lane and the combination was bound to kick ass - but getting Killer Mike, Anderson .Paak, Mos Def and Black Thought too? As I had to say in my midyear review, the fact I had not covered this album was a considerable asterisk I had to add to the list, because I just hadn't heard enough of it in time to process and think it over. But now I found the time, and the moment is here: what did Gibbs and Madlib deliver on Bandana?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 6, 2019 (VIDEO)


Honestly, I've been tinkering with the past few episodes in the audio mixing and thus far it's turning out well - generally nice.

Next up, though... Gibbs is coming, folks. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 6, 2019

So remember when I said last week that it looked like things were about to be changing? It's hard not to look at the Hot 100 right now and think that the disruptions are starting to come en masse - not the album bomb I expected from Lil Nas X, sure, but we still got four new songs in the top quarter of the charts, as well as a few shifts I definitely did not predict - we could be in for an interesting summer, just putting it out there.

Monday, July 1, 2019

the top albums/songs of the midyear - 2019 (VIDEO)


Oh, and I did this. And outside of a few editing hiccups (UGGGHHH) this turned out well. Enjoy!

resonators 2019 - episode #018 - 'bourgiebohopostpomoafrohomo' by deep dickollective (VIDEO)


So yeah, you won't believe how much work I put in behind the scenes to get this done properly, but I'm happy it turned out well.

But next up... Billboard BREAKDOWN, a bunch of albums on my backlog that'll fit close to the Trailing Edge, and then Freddie Gibbs - stay tuned!

resonators 2019 - episode #018 - 'bourgiebohopostpomoafrohomo' by deep dickollective

So last year by sheer coincidence, during Pride Month I wound up talking about the Dicks on this series, one of the first notable queercore acts and widely cited for pushing gay themes in hardcore punk. And that got me thinking: why don't I do the same thing for this series this year, but for underground hip-hop, find one of those LGBT acts that might be long-forgotten?

Well, if anything this was as challenging of an effort to track down as it was discovering The Dicks, because if you thought queer themes in punk were transgressive in the 80s, they were damn near heretical in underground hip-hop near the turn of the millennium. Just like underground hip-hop we're talking about a male-dominated scene, but it was also a space where the homophobic flowed freely - they'd have a hard time accepting women into the party, let alone queer acts, and that tended to be a common prejudice be you black or white. In fact, it was often framed as a defensive projection of masculinity, not just by young guys scared of catching 'the gay' but also by black men who perceived society's fetishization of them as boiling them down to their sexual traits and nothing else, and if that sexuality was not emphasized, he might be coded as 'gay'. And that's not even touching the pseudo-spiritual and religious dimensions that had no tolerance for queerness.

So I honestly didn't expect to find any acts who came out of this era who openly identified as gay or bi or trans or queer... and yet I did. In the year 2000, a few PhD students at Stanford met and expressed frustration with the spoken word poetry community's ostracization of their blackness and queerness. And while the core trio - Juba Kalamka, Tim'm T West aka 25Percenter, and Philip Atiba Goff aka. LSP - had experienced some solo success in the community, they were annoyed at the lines a presumably "conscious" community was drawing, and they saw the opportunity to push buttons on masculinity, colour, and sexuality in their music, and take a harder, deconstructionist tone to the homophobic content that was cropping up in hip-hop, mainstream and underground. So they began creating compositions that would become the groundwork of their 2001 breakthrough, recruiting a few other guests and producers along the way, a project widely considered as one of the genesis points of queer hip-hop - it might have started as a parody but it morphed into something more. That's right, we're talking about BourgieBohoPostPomoAfroHomo by Deep Dickollective, and this is Resonators!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

the top albums/songs of the midyear - 2019

So for one of the first times when I'm making this midyear retrospective, I have to introduce a major caveat: I'm putting together this list before listening to the long-awaited return collaboration between Freddie Gibbs and Madlib. Make no mistake, I want to hear it and it'll probably get a ton of praise from me given how much I loved Pinata, but it's also going to be a project I'll need time to process and I don't want to rush a review before the midyear and risk delays, so if you're wondering why that's not here, that's why.

But it's also important to highlight that even if that album is as amazing as I hope it'll be, it would face some stiff competition this year! I highlighted last year how even despite getting a pretty reasonable spread of albums it was easy to put things in position, and I wanted to say it'd be same here... until I truly took a look at how many truly stunning albums we've gotten in the first half of 2019! Country has delivered in spades, underground hip-hop is firing on all cylinders, I've got solid cuts from rock and punk and metal, and even pop and R&B have given me some choice cuts. As such, this is one of those years I've had to make some painful cut to whittle this list down to twelve albums and twenty-four songs outside those albums, and just like last year, I have to stress just because an album didn't make this midyear list is no guarantee it won't make the year-end, or that positions won't evolve or change. Also - and I feel this important to emphasize - if you're expecting to see some big name critical darlings here... well, suffice to say 2019 has been a year where I'm flying down a very different path than many mainstream critics, so if you're looking for certain albums... go check to see if I've reviewed them, that's all I'm saying.

And given that this is the sixth one of these lists I've assembled, I've got twelve albums, twenty four songs not otherwise on those albums, and let's start with...

Friday, June 28, 2019

video review: 'late night feelings' by mark ronson


Well, I'm a little late to the punch with this one, but it was a genuinely solid project that I really liked - enjoy!

Next up... okay, Resonators, Trailing Edge, maybe one more review, and then the midyear - stay tuned!

album review: 'late night feelings' by mark ronson

Am I the only one who feels like it's been years since 'Uptown Funk'? And yes, that song originally debuted in 2014, I get that it's been a while, but the pop landscape that was once open to the shamelessly retro, classicist approach Mark Ronson brought to pop music has mutated so much thanks to the onset of trap and the collapse of so many acts seem like they've left the producer and singer-songwriter in a weird place - it feels so much longer than it's actually been. Hell, if you want evidence of that, look at how it seemed like radio was anemic towards 'Nothing Breaks Like A Heart', a genuinely terrific Miley Cyrus collaboration that was one of the best songs she's made this decade!

So in a way I'm not surprised that it seems like Late Night Feelings doesn't have the buzz that greeted Uptown Special in early 2015, but I still wanted to cover it, if only so I could have an excuse to give 'Nothing Breaks Like A Heart' more attention and exposure. And Ronson still has the sort of clout to pull acts as varied as Alicia Keys, Angel Olsen, and Lykke Li along with Miley. And while I wasn't expecting a smash in the same way as 'Uptown Funk', I did have high hopes in terms of pure craftsmanship, so what did we get from Late Night Feelings?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

video review: 'help us stranger' by the raconteurs


Well this is... actually, I have no idea if this is going to be super controversial or not, we'll have to see.

Anyway, time to venture into a review that I'm genuinely surprised I haven't seen more folks approach - stay tuned!

album review: 'help us stranger' by the raconteurs

Of all of Jack White's side projects, this was the one I least expected him to revisit.

Hell, I thought he had moved on years ago, mostly because The Raconteurs felt like a precursor to everything Jack White would do in the 2010s, laying a foundation of classic rock for Jack White in the latter half of the 2000s to springboard his weirder retro-blues and garage side to wildly varying results in the 2010s. And I'll admit they were always the act that tended to draw the least of my attention, even as you could argue they were the most consistent Jack White side project. I attribute a lot of this to co-frontman Brendon Benson who had a much more measured, conventional rock tone to his song structures and compositions, but that might stand as the most telling drawback of the group, because of every stylized stab into rock Jack White made, The Raconteurs were the most backwards-looking and conventional. And sure, the albums were fine - probably getting the most interesting when they mined the compositional tension between White and Benson - but they were projects that didn't really add much great or boundary pushing in rock in comparison to Blunderbuss, or even Boarding House Reach, an album I'm mixed on to this day but at least was taking chances.

And I bring up Boarding House Reach because it's hard not to feel like the mixed reception or even backlash to that project might have prompted Jack White to reunite with Benson - sure, it's been teased for a while, but if he wanted an easy way to appease an increasingly unpleasable audience, a new album from The Raconteurs over ten years since Consolers of the Lonely would probably help. But at the same time I had low expectations - the songs would probably be fine, but firmly indebted to classic rock and blues and nothing great or challenging. But hey, I'm open to being wrong, so what did we get from Help Us Stranger?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 29, 2019 (VIDEO)


Okay, this looks to be a pretty busy episode... eh, we'll see.

Next up, let's finally deal with the Raconteurs - stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 29, 2019

There's something about this week that feels big. Not a lot of of new arrivals but we had two smash into the top 10, along with a few notable departures that give me the feeling that we're on the cusp of a major shakeup... although given that album bombs are a little less of a thing in 2019, I'm not sure I'm seeing the release on the horizon that's truly going to do it.

Monday, June 24, 2019

video review: '7' by lil nas x


Well, this exists... about as much as I can say about it, given that we're riding on a glorified meme, but let's see how far it takes the song...

Anyway, Billboard BREAKDOWN and maybe a review up next, so stay tuned!

album review: '7' by lil nas x

I bet there's some of you who thought this would never be released - and I include Lil Nas X in that group.

See, quite a few things have changed and evolved since I appeared on Dead End Hip Hop a few months back to try and clear up a few things about 'Old Town Road', the country trap song that has ruled the Hot 100 for months, where I described the Billboard controversy as less of a discussion of race in country and more one of industry machinations. And turns out for the most part I was right, as when the remix with Billy Ray Cyrus was released, Nashville was able to get its paycheque and let the song lodge itself comfortably on top. And then things started happening that kept proving what I said right - Lil Nas X conveniently leaks that he was an industry plant signed to Columbia, which you might think was a troll, but a.) he would have no reason to say that and it kind of undercuts his entire narrative by doing so; b.) how else did he get that Nine Inch Nails sample cleared on 'Old Town Road', c.) how the hell did the song wind up on so many prominent playlists for streaming and d.) how else did he get that big budget music video otherwise? Most meme songs don't get that widespread in the mainstream without someone pushing levers, the controversy between Nashville labels and mainstream labels was a convenient bit of backdrop and infighting to juice publicity with Billboard hapless in the middle, and it looked like Lil Nas X was content to ride his one hit for as long as he could.

But the ugly truth is that if you're an industry plant, even if your song has been on top for week after week, the label's going to expect something to keep the cash flow going, hence this quickly announced and released EP. All indications was that it wasn't going to be that good - very few folks could make the lightning of a cut like 'Old Town Road' strike twice, but at least it'd be short, right?

Friday, June 21, 2019

video review: 'too mean to die' by karly driftwood


And here we go - way too late to the punch with this one, but I'm glad to cover it.

Now the good news is that I've got the next week off to work on reviews and get ahead of things, so Resonators, the Trailing Edge, a bunch of reviews, and the midyear video are on their way. So yeah, stay tuned!

album review: 'too mean to die' by karly driftwood

So I'm going to start this review on a tangent that could be considered political - you've been warned - and it focuses around a musician's personal life outside of the music, namely the reality that the vast majority of them can't afford to make a living off of music alone. Sure, you get a scattered few who are marketing masterminds and who can position their web presence in a way to collect more than you'd ever believe, but that's not the norm, especially for indie acts who are just starting to build their buzz. And work/life balance is a thing as you want to find time to write and produce and play gigs but also pick up shifts however you can, and sometimes that can lead you to rough territory, sometimes stuff that to appeal to a wider audience might be a little transgressive to put in your lyrics, especially if you're a woman and especially if it's tied to sex and sex work. Especially in American society, if you write about that stuff it's considered uncouth, you're risking backlash.

And I'm here to say that's absolute bullshit. Yeah, Cardi B stripped before she started making music - who cares? I can respect genuine talent, stage presence, and rapping skill that she has, and if she wants to talk about her experiences, that's fine by me. In fact, I'll go one further: beyond the fact that I believe sex work should be actively decriminalized and destigmatized, the fact that a certain subset of hip-hop fans want to marginalize her because of that past and the fact she talks about it is bullshit - after what you've let fly by in all sets of hip-hop, especially towards women, suddenly this is where you develop a moral standard? But let's keep in mind that hip-hop has at least been priming the pump to have that conversation - what other genres of music have gone there? 

Well, R&B... to a point, and of course it's shown up in the riot grrl side of punk, but how about country? Well, you could have a lengthy conversation surrounding how a predominantly conservative genre has dealt with sex - normally by sliding it into subtext or getting coy about it, and a lot of women have gotten really creative in how they've sidestepped moral censors - or your name is Bobbie Gentry and you write songs like 'Fancy' that are decades ahead of their time. Maybe it's a bit more explicit in the indie scene with acts like Lydia Loveless, but never that far if you're looking to cross over or get to a bigger label - until now. Meet Karly Driftwood, where with songs titled 'Stripped My Way To Nashville' are looking to provoke a reaction, yank the content conversation to a rougher, more transgressive and modern place where the sex and violence are allowed, and when you have a debut titled Too Mean To Die, you do grab an audience's attention. I'll admit it's been on my schedule for some time and I figured I might as well tackle it in full before the midyear, so what did Karly Driftwood deliver here?

Thursday, June 20, 2019

video review: 'gold & grey' by baroness


Okay, this was a disappointment, but really, what perplexes me is how much critical acclaim certain mainstream establishments are still giving this thing. Either their systems are concentrated ass, they got a superior copy, or they're talking crazy - or all three.

Anyway, I want to knock off a quick indie project that gave me a lot to say, then back to routine - stay tuned!

album review: 'gold & grey' by baroness

So throughout the course of my reviews but especially in the past couple of years, I've gotten comments surrounding how much attention I pay to the production of albums I review. And even beyond my lyrical or thematic criticisms, I'd argue production is probably some of the least recognized part of discussing music, or at least serves as a strong differentiating factor between the casual listeners and the diehards. And believe you me, if I could ignore bad mixing or mastering or simply was able to tune out where it was average instead of possibly great, it'd probably make my life as a critic a lot easier... but when you hear a project where the production approach matches what the artist is intending, you can find something really rare and special, especially if it's not overdone.

But I'll admit the 'overdone' question is a loaded one, because sometimes an album's mood and vibe is created as much by a producer as the compositions themselves, and finding the proper balance can be incredibly tricky, especially if you're taking risks behind the boards. Which, inevitably, takes us to Baroness, the veteran heavy metal act who delivered a few genuinely excellent albums and yet had to claw their way back from near disaster to deliver the phenomenal Purple in 2015, which damn near had a shot for my year-end list even as their single 'Shock Me' absolutely made it. But one of my main criticisms of Purple was rooted in producer Dave Fridmann, who I knew most for his work with The Flaming Lips where I could respect his commitment to massive atmospherics, but also was embracing an increasingly blocky, blown-out sound heavily reliant on clunky compression. And it's tough to pinpoint the exact moment where things started becoming obtrusive - I'd argue it was Embryonic in 2009 - but by the middle of the 2010s it was starting to actively detract from the compositions, and it did prove to be a small blemish on Purple. So when a lot of the buzz around Baroness' follow-up Gold & Grey was linked to how the production issues were now at the forefront with Fridmann handling production and mixing and where more than just critics were noticing... yeah, that was scary. But hey, it's Baroness - they're a genuinely great band and I was excited to see how new guitarist Gina Gleason deliver, so maybe Gold & Grey would turn out just fine?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

video review: 'doom days' by bastille


Alright, that was mediocre - not really surprising or disappointing, though.

No, if you want that stuff... well, stay tuned.

album review: 'doom days' by bastille

...third time's the charm, right?

Look, I would have every good excuse to skip over this project. I was lukewarm on Bad Blood, a project buoyed by a few genuinely great songs and a lot of underwhelming mediocrity. I got even less to work with on 2016's Wild World, saved only by 'Blame' amidst a torrent of awful production choices and writing that seemed to miss treating its acrid condescension and surface-level poetry for genuine earnest swell. And then there was 'Happier', which stripped away the traces of organic swell and groove to work with Marshmello, and basically is a song that exists - nobody will remember or care about that track in a year or two, it was Dan Smith cashing in his limited connections for a momentary crossover so Bastille is no longer a one-hit wonder.

But hey, maybe this third album would work - framed as a concept album starting at midnight and working to the morning during an extended party with explicit lyrical timestamps, this is an arc that's connected before. Hell, one of my favourite albums from 2017, Written At Night by underground rapper Uncommon Nasa, took a similar window of time with more introversion, so I was morbidly curious about how Bastille would approach this, especially as they didn't seem like a band that would make a 'party' project in this lane. So okay, what did we get with Doom Days?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 22, 2019 (VIDEO)


Alright, this actually came together a fair bit better than I was expecting - go figure. 

Next up... well, the poll says Bastille, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 22, 2019

You know, one of the most frustrating things as a music critic is that sometimes you can find yourself in a bubble of your own biases - you know what you like and dislike, and thus while you're actively seeking the former, if you're stuck covering the charts you might totally forget a project dropped that could impact them. Hence was the case this week, where I did expect the Jonas Brothers would have a little more traction - and they do - and I remembered vaguely that Luke Combs was moving an EP, I completely forgot that Future still has enough chart cache to get his new EP multiple entries. Guess I'm going to wind up covering it after a fashion anyway - joy.

Monday, June 17, 2019

video review: 'shepherd in a sheepskin vest' by bill callahan


Okay, so this was promising... long-winded both in the album and me talking about it, but I think this turned out alright enough.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN for the week and then... hmm, not sure. Stay tuned!

album review: 'shepherd in a sheepskin vest' by bill callahan

So I'd like to continue off of something I brought up in the Weyes Blood review and it does come with a bit of self-awareness on my part. I opened up that conversation with the discussion surrounding the sudden critical convergence that can happen around indie acts for a single project that can leave just as quickly, but there's another category of acts in an adjacent lane: the indie acts who do get consistent critical acclaim, but never seem to reach the larger conversation. A lot of singer-songwriters and smaller-scale acts wind up in this group, the folks who will reliably make critics' year-end lists, but rarely at the top, and while they will have a persistent cult following, they tend to be artists that even critics forget to revisit - until, out of the blue, they decide on a lark to give the album a spin and are stuck wondering why they don't put it on more often. Which is not quite as bad of a situation as what happens to the one-album-critical-darling, but can be deflating for an artist who would probably wish their name came up in the conversation a bit more.

And for me, I can't think of many acts that fit the bill more than Bill Callahan, previously known as Smog for a string of good-to-spectacular albums throughout the 90s and 2000s - until he switched to using his own name in 2007 and the quality never seemed to stop. And I'll admit I was late to the party - I first heard some of his work with Apocalypse in 2011, but it was Dream River in 2013 that really sealed the deal, a stunningly subtle and potent album that featured one of my favourite songs of that year in 'Summer Painter' and brought a level of cohesion and laconic focus to his brand of writing and production. It's rare to confront a singer-songwriter who can say and imply so much with so few words - in the 2010s the only singer-songwriter who comes close to what Callahan delivers is Courtney Marie Andrews, and even then stylistically they're in different phases of their career and very different lanes, but there is a similar road-weary, textured atmosphere both can command that gives their words so much more. But it's been a while since we've heard from Callahan - he put out a dub album covering Dream River in 2014 and a live album in 2018, but it's been a while since we've gotten new material... and he's got a lot of it, a full double album with a renewed focus on his current domestic life. Now I'll admit I've had mixed results with these sorts of projects, just because of the phase of life I'm in - it was one of the reasons Lori McKenna's The Tree didn't quite hit as strongly for me last year, and there's someone else who deserves to be in this conversation - and twenty songs of Bill Callahan's style and cadence is a lot, but I figured I'd let this sink in, so what did we get out of Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

video review: 'infections of a different kind / a different kind of human' by AURORA


And here we are - everyone who is asking, I think you might handle this one a bit better than last time (or at least I hope so).

Next up... honestly, I've got a pretty light schedule for the week ahead, so we'll have to see - stay tuned!

album review: 'infections of a different kind / a different kind of human' by AURORA

So I've talked a little about backlash that I've received for certain reviews - I don't tend to bring it up much because it honestly doesn't faze me much anymore, but there are certain cases where I'm a little bewildered at the intensity of the anger or vitriol, mostly because it comes in reviews where I'm more mixed on the project than outright negative. And 2016 was a year where I had more of those episodes than most, but what I think threw me off the most starkly was the response to covering the Norwegian indie pop artist AURORA. Now I'll admit I wasn't really kind to her debut project, but the truth was that I was more ambivalent to mixed on it as a whole - it wasn't really bad, but it also wasn't that distinctive or memorable either, a well-trod indie pop lane that frankly has only felt more oversaturated in recent years. The comparisons I originally made were to Christina Perri and Elvya, but going back to All My Demons Greet Me As A Friend now, it's abundantly clear I should have made the parallel to Florence + The Machine, just swapping out some of the chamber pop with lilting, slightly gothic folk that played on creepy girl weirdness in a way that's felt depressing conventional, or at the very least overplayed. 

So I'll admit I was in no hurry to hear more from her and indeed I skipped her 2018 project Infections Of A Different Kind, especially with the expectation this was part one to a full-album part two dropping this year, which is why I'm covering both here. And I figured I'd go in cold here - after all, Florence has grown on me considerably over the past few years and I had to hope that all the Bjork poses AURORA was making would wind up translating to slightly more interesting music, so what did we get on both Infections Of A Different Kind and A Different Kind Of Human?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

video review: 'widow's weeds' by silversun pickups


Well, this was very much disappointing - hopefully AURORA will be better as she's up next, stay tuned!

album review: 'widow's weeds' by silversun pickups

So I've never reviewed a Silversun Pickups album before, mostly because there wasn't much demand for me to cover Better Nature four years ago, but I'll admit I had walked adjacent to the band before then - and yet the conversation around this band fascinates me as it exposes a certain divide between critics of certain ages, and also prompts a conversation that surely won't get that controversial, right?

Well anyway, let's go back to 2006 where Silversun Pickups have released Carnavas with the instant classic single 'Lazy Eye', promptly becoming the best incarnation of the Smashing Pumpkins in the 2000s. And if you don't like that comparison, you've immediately exposed the controversy that's unfortunately surrounded this band for years, as with a nasal singer, aggressive loud-soft dynamics coasting on jangling guitar grooves, pretensions to larger sounds, and later in their career a slow pivot towards electronic music, it was an obvious parallel. Now let's put aside that the Smashing Pumpkins hadn't been tolerable since the end of the 90s and that given how the mainstream rock scene was only getting flashier before the aggro tones took over for the end of the decade, there was space for a band like Silversun Pickups... but they were an obvious retread to many critics and that was enough to ostracize them.

And this is where I have to highlight the generational divide, because I'm not going to ignore how much Silversun Pickups sounded like Smashing Pumpkins, but coming from someone who only went back to the Smashing Pumpkins and is lukewarm on the group at best - they're way more inconsistent than you remember and the egomaniacal preening of Billy Corgan hasn't really aged well - I had no problem with Silversun Pickups taking a similar sound in a slightly different direction. That's not saying the band doesn't have problems - the pop pivot hasn't been exactly smooth, the writing has been underwhelming, the band doesn't have the sheer nexus of creative genius that is Billy Corgan, nearly everything they write goes on too long, and I think they've consistently failed to realize their melodic hooks are their greatest strength. But without the foundational Gen X nostalgia for the Smashing Pumpkins, I can recognize where Silversun Pickups are different - less goth and prog, more scuzzy post-punk and shoegaze, with a shaggier approach to melody that has gradually put them in a different lane. Granted, I had no idea what I could get with this project, swapping out producer Jacknife Lee for rock megaproducer and former early Smashing Pumpkins producer Butch Vig, so what did we get out of Widow's Weeds?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 15, 2019 (VIDEO)


Okay, that was a long episode... and yet amazingly I'm ahead of schedule with it, go figure.

Anyway, next up is the equivalent of a double album, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 15, 2019

So this is one of those weeks that I'm just convinced whatever I review, I'm going to wind up pissing people off. And while I'd normally be able to skate by such thoughts on Billboard BREAKDOWN, given that it's in its own separate, equally annoying ecosystem... yeah, a quick glance at our new arrivals is telling me everything I need to know, there's no getting out of the stupid here.

Monday, June 10, 2019

video review: 'titanic rising' by weyes blood


Yeah, I expected this one to get messy... it happens.

Anyway, Billboard BREAKDOWN is up next, stay tuned!

album review: 'titanic rising' by weyes blood

So I'll admit I find myself a little fascinated by the 'critically acclaimed indie blow-up' story, mostly because I'm curious whether they are genuinely as calculated as they might appear from the sidelines. 

And you know how it goes: an indie act who normally has put in a few albums that are well-received but never quite beloved or super-popular suddenly goes to put out a project, and it seems like without warning a majority of critics have decided this is the one to get onboard with this artist, their time is now, and the critical acclaim is so pronounced it almost seems extraordinary. Normally it's when the act puts out their most accessible project but not always - hell, at some points you find yourself wondering what the hell is so distinctive about this one that will drive folks bananas. And this doesn't tend to happen for the consistent critical darlings or your more widely popular hipster mainstays or even your one-and-done flukes, which often leaves me wondering why the hell it's this album or it's this artist. The criterion feels nebulous, and I kind of feel sorry for the artists who might see their hype balloon for one album before all of it evaporating for their next when the formula doesn't change that much. 

So when we get to Natalie Mering aka. Weyes Blood... look, the signs are there this is happening to her. She's been putting out albums in the underground that split the difference between fuzzed out dream pop and more vintage baroque textures - think the opulence of the pop of the mid-60s before firmer grooves took hold in the latter half of that decade - and I've always thought they were okay enough with decent writing, but nothing that jumped off the page or I found truly riveting, both on the albums or her collaborations. And that seemed to be the critical consensus too, and yet suddenly this becomes the project that has won folks over en masse and is one of the most critically adored projects of 2019, with fans who just will not shut the fuck up about it? I'll admit that it did seem suspicious, but I was open to this potentially being amazing, so okay, intentionally very late to the punch with this, what did we get from Titanic Rising?

the top ten worst hit songs of 2010 (VIDEO)


Well, this was a long time coming, but I'm happy this came out as loose and funny as it is. 

Next up... well, I put up a vote on Twitter and folks apparently wanted me to cover something else instead of AURORA and Silversun Pickups... so I've got a surprise in store. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

video review: 'happiness begins' by jonas brothers


So yeah, this was rough... but the interesting thing is that I'm not seeing a huge backlash to my review, which is kind of fascinating...

Anyway, now onto the bigger matter at hand...

the top ten worst hit songs of 2010

...what, you thought these retrospective lists would only cover the best of the year? 

Yeah, eventually we were going to have to get here, and we might as well start with the first year in the 2010s left uncovered. But first, a quick recap of the chart trends of 2010, a year knee-deep in the club boom, somewhat evenly between the songs that believed the party would never end and those who were desperately pretending it wasn't happening at all. And what was telling was how both sides of that binary wound up on the best and worst lists, which you'd think would balance everything out. And yet that's where you'd be wrong, because the bad songs seemed to grossly outweigh the good in 2010 in hitting the lucrative balance between offensive, obnoxious, or just plain asinine. More to the point, it was also a year where flimsy production that's aged rather badly was everywhere on the Hot 100, and sometimes a song sounding like ass is all you need here.

Now granted, 2010 is one of those years where the factor of, 'Oh, this sucked, but nobody cares anymore so why revisit it', and that tends to be a hidden truth about the Hot 100 - bad trends age badly, but the songs are so disposable that nobody really cares all that much, which tends to paint the years as better than they might be. And while this is true for some forgotten crap, there'll also be hits on this list that somehow remain massive to this day, either because the artists are still celebrities - and probably shouldn't be - or the radio has entrenched them as staples because nobody with brain cells came in the day they decided on syndication. And again, the songs had to debut on the Hot 100 in 2010 - it's widely considered a pretty rough year for the charts, all the more tainted by the fact I personally spent way too much time in the club in 2010, so let's go back to the gungy afterparty rightly forgotten, and the morning hangover that somehow has not gone away, starting with...