Friday, January 31, 2014

video review: 'transgender dysphoria blues' by against me!

That came together fairly quickly. Not sure I'm thrilled with the video, but eh, I honestly didn't have a lot to say. Punk albums are good that way - they get to the point.

Next up... hmm, well, there's no releases I care about until February 4, so it's time to tackle some old business. Stay tuned!

album review: 'transgender dysphoria blues' by against me!

It's a fairly well-know fact in punk music that if you stick around in the scene long enough, you will get sick of punk music. As much as I love punk, it's a genre that has a certain instrumental simplicity in its purest form, which means many acts will stop playing punk fairly early in their careers and move in different instrumental directions. Some go towards mainstream pop, some go towards folk, a fair chunk gravitate towards metal or hardcore, and of course you have the post-punk scene. And as the genre changes, the songwriting topics tend to change as well, and thus you'll end up getting all manner of cries of 'sellout' the second the band opts for a different sound.

And really, I don't think that's entirely fair - the set of punk 'ideals' and songwriting topic have always been nebulous and hard to define, and there have been punk acts like Green Day who have held onto decidedly punk sensibilities lyrically while exploring arena rock and other genres. I'd only be inclined to brand an act a 'sellout' if the songwriting took a notable dip in quality, and say what you will about Green Day, but their shallow and hyperbolic lyrics have been a consistent factor throughout their entire career (you know it's true).

But then we have Against Me!, a punk act that sprung up in the early 2000s with serious songwriting chops, a knack for great hooks, and a lot of instrumental talent with real punk flair... and yet after those first two albums, it'd be hard to argue that they didn't 'sell out'. From Searching For A Former Clarity onward you could see the changes across the board, with the grime and instrumental texture slowly being scraped away, the ideals and wry self-awareness that characterized their early work falling away, and the songwriting only coming across as more conventional and painfully mundane (still good on a technical level, mind you, but not nearly as interesting). The band still had a knack for great hooks and catchy material, but by the time White Crosses was released in 2010, I'd have a hard time calling the band a 'punk' act rather than your standard arena rock crowd-pleaser, which lyrics that were shallower than ever and a seeming complete lack of self-awareness. And look, I like earnestness, but Against Me!'s early appeal for me was in the balance between razor-sharp insight and self-aware populism. And by White Crosses, that was almost entirely gone, leaving behind a pretty solid but not particularly interesting 'arena punk' band.

But I have to admit, I was curious about their newest release Transgender Dysphoria Blues. The title was inspired by lead singer Laura Jane Grace coming out as a trans woman in 2012 and her struggles with gender dysphoria that she's endured her whole life (and in retrospect, come up a surprising amount on early Against Me! albums). In terms of an album topic, you just don't see many albums discussing trans issues, and coupled with the fact Against Me! were now on their own label and were returning to their rougher sound, I was really interested in what this record would put forward. So how did go?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

video review: 'hydra' by within temptation

Well, this was fun. Next up will probably be Against Me!, but it'll take a little more time for me to completely cut through their discography, so stay tuned!

album review: 'hydra' by within temptation

I've mentioned in the past that when I leaped from pop music into symphonic metal in my teens, I primarily listened to acts like Blind Guardian and Nightwish, at least initially. But it wasn't long before I discovered the act that was often considered Nightwish's primary competitor in the realm of symphonic metal, as they both started in the same year and had uncannily similar album release schedules. 

That band was Within Temptation, a band I've consistently liked for the past decade and one that I've always held up as the necessary rational counterpart to Nightwish's turbulent insanity. Where Nightwish dove into wildly imaginative yet bloated excess, Within Temptation toed the line a little closer to the mainstream with tighter lyrics and riffs, Sharon den Adel's beautiful vocals, and a sound that would be more easily accessible from the crowd that took the wary step away from Evanescence into something heavier (and eons better).

And yet, as much as I like Within Temptation's consistent high quality, they aren't a band that has ever surprised me, and they've only had moments of pure transcendent awesomeness. Don't get me wrong, all of their albums are definitely worth your time, but as a band I wouldn't quite say they've stepped out of their comfort zone - heavy enough to be considered metal, but not too heavy or weird enough to be inaccessible to a casual fan. In fact, if you're looking for a great entry point for symphonic metal, Within Temptation would be a fine start, but on the other hand, while lead singer Sharon den Adel might have begun her career collaborating with Arjen Lucassen (of Ayreon), her most recent release prior to this was an album of metal covers of pop and rock songs that included David Guetta, Bruno Mars, and Enrique Iglesias.

And thus, I was skeptical going into their most recent album Hydra. I did like their previous major release The Unforgiving, an attempt at a pulpy urban fantasy tale than worked more often than it didn't, but the delays and bizarre list of collaborators on this album gave me a fair bit of pause. And while some were saying Within Temptation was returning to their 'heavier' roots and showing 'the many different sides of their music', I had to wonder that at what point would Within Temptation lose all their unique personality altogether. I prayed for the best, but I expected the worst - what did I get?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

video review: 'daylight & dark' by jason eady

Damn, this album was great. In case you need more incentive after my review, GET THIS ALBUM.

Next up... well, things might get heavier up in here. Stay tuned!

album review: 'daylight & dark' by jason eady

I've recently come to a realization about my own musical preferences that is both unsurprising and a little exasperating: I tend to prefer interesting or powerful songwriting over grand musical experimentation at points. It's one of the reasons I've long been reticent about covering a lot of material with growled or screamed vocals - or, on that note, covering a lot of R&B - because the actual words on the page don't quite matter as much as the way they're delivered with that style. To me, presentation isn't always enough, which means I tend to be harsher on underwritten indie or hard rock in comparison to some critics or kinder to acts with more narrative ambition in genres like country. Now obviously there's more to it than that - I love good melodies, solid production, and sheer epic music as much as any, and my favourite music combines all these elements, but if I were given the choice between endlessly catchy earworms but lousy songwriting or riveting lyrics with quieter or less interesting instrumentation, I'll usually take the latter.

So it always puts a smile on my face when I find country acts like Jason Eady, a critically-praised singer-songwriter who is easily one of the strongest songwriters I've seen in a while, with an uncanny knack for great melodies and original lyrics with a ton of detail and flavour. I wouldn't say he's the greatest singer in the world and the basic building blocks of his songs are reasonably conventional by country standards, but the details are what knocked him into my good graces. The first album I took a look at was 2009's When The Money's All Gone, a rough-edged, incredibly organic record that wasn't afraid to go into the bleak, lurid details that you didn't see hit mainstream country radio in the same way. It was dark, it went for emotional gut-punches, it was brilliantly framed thanks to Jason Eady's expressive delivery, and if I had been reviewing five years ago, it would have had a solid shot at my Top Ten list that year.

Eady followed that album in 2012 with AM Country Heaven, which proved to be a small mainstream breakout and a critical success, but I have to be honest and say I didn't quite like the album as much. Oh, the songwriting was still great and songs like 'AM Country Heaven' were perfect barbs launched at the increasingly sterile country music establishment, but at the same time I felt the production and instrumentation weren't as varied or interesting. Some of the texture had been sanded away and the instrumentation had a more accessible vibe (which was inevitably why the album was successful), and while that was fine, his previous album just stood out as more unique and closer to the grimy outlaw country that I've always loved. So when he released his newest album Daylight & Dark, I wasn't sure what to expect. The songwriting was likely to still be there, but would he move towards an even more polished and accessible sound, or return to the roughness of his earlier work?

Monday, January 27, 2014

video review: 'strong feelings' by doug paisley

Yeah, it's late. Don't care, glad I got this out.

Next up... hmm, not sure yet. Got a few discographies to churn through. There's some stuff I definitely love, and stuff I know will get me a roughly analogous reaction to the Switchfoot review. Fun stuff, so stay tuned!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

album review: 'strong feelings' by doug paisley

So as the only country music critic on YouTube, I tend to get some flack because of my supposed lack of country 'credentials' - even though I've been listening to country for over twenty years and it's probably one of the genres of which I know most. Most often such comments take the form of, 'You're a city boy, you can't understand the appeal', with the frequent follow-up being, 'You're Canadian, you just don't get the music of the American heartland', and then it's followed by homophobic slurs I won't indulge.

But I feel it's an appropriate time to address these oh-so-enlightened individuals, speaking as a guy who grew up in Western Canada with country music: you know there's such a thing as Canadian country, right?

I'm dead serious here. Outside of Nashville and some cities in Texas, the next biggest nexus of country in North America would probably be Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, which has developed its own burgeoning country music scene outside of the US. And it's a distinctive scene with its own flavour and personality that managed to avoid most of the worst trends in country music that came out of the States last year. Acts like Gord Bamford and George Canyon and Dean Brody might not be all that familiar south of the border, but thanks to the Canadian Radio & Telecommuncations Commission (which ensures Canadian content gets a certain percentage of airplay here), they've managed to build audiences out here. Better still is the fact that they've tended to stick with a decidedly Canadian sensibility, which sticks much closer to neotraditional country in comparison with the flashier, more aggressively meat-headed style that exploded in the US last year.

But today, we're not going to be talking about the Edmonton scene, but instead an alternative country act that comes Toronto - yes, my current location - named Doug Paisley (of no known relation to Brad Paisley). His last major release was in 2010 called Constant Companion, and it was pretty damn good. A country artist toeing the line between indie folk and neotraditional country, Doug Paisley stood out for his weary, emotive lyrics that a simple charm in drawing you into his melancholy, which set him above the typical 'white douche with acoustic guitar'. Like with Matt Berninger of The National, his country roots informed the songwriting - but what became interesting was his instrumentation and delivery, both which were reminiscent of the late 70s (and not outlaw country), which was not a great time for country music. It was smooth and polished, reflecting not so much downbeat depression but tired resignation that things might go downhill but he could handle it. And yet even as harsh reality lurked behind the lyrics, there were a lot of rougher flourishes hiding in the instrumentation I really liked - the organ, the piano-driven harmonies, the gentle support of Feist as a supporting vocalist. All of it came together to create a really strong singer-songwriter record that really stuck with me, so I was interested in his newest album Strong Feelings. How did it go?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

special comment: kacey musgraves touring with katy perry (video)

I'm actually pretty proud of how this came together - something that might not get a lot of hits, but some decent analysis all the same.

Okay, next up is Doug Paisley. Stay tuned!

special comment: kacey musgraves is touring with katy perry

At first glance, it seems to make absolutely no sense: a headline that suggests that the opening act for Katy Perry one of the biggest pop stars in the past few years will be... Kacey Musgraves, a critically acclaimed but not exactly widely known country singer-songwriter. Kacey Musgraves, who hasn't had had a hit on the country charts rise higher than #14 on country radio. At first glance from the pop landscape, it makes no sense.

And from the country landscape, it makes even less. Kacey Musgraves' album Same Trailer, Different Park wasn't a huge commercial smash in comparison with the bro-country she railed against all year, but it was a critical one, landing on several top critical top ten lists, including mine at #3. She's a singer-songwriter who has a reputation for organic, Americana-inspired country that openly attacks traditional values with sharply written, well-composed lyrics that won her New Artist of the Year at the Country Music Awards. So what on earth is she doing touring with Katy Perry, one of the most shallow, ephemeral pop acts in recent years? Why is her label Mercury Nashville pairing her outside of the country genre altogether instead of one of the many other artists signed through the label, or even on UMG Nashville as a whole? 

Those questions - along with the assertions that Kacey Musgraves would probably be a better pairing with other critically acclaimed country acts like Jason Isbell or fellow songwriter Brandy Clark - has gotten some country music fans a little worried about Kacey's future. The funny thing is that from my point-of-view, I can't see a real downside to this decision on any front, and to explain that, I'm going to need to discuss the careers of not just Kacey Musgraves and Katy Perry, but a third female act who also plays a part in this story - and how these results can only be positive in the long run and for once a very shrewd and smart business decision by Mercury Nashville.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

video review: 'lord steppington' by step brothers (the alchemist & evidence)

Glad to finally have a great album released this year - about time.

Next will be Doug Paisley, as I still need time to get through Jason Eady's and Against Me!'s releases. Stay tuned!

album review: 'lord steppington' by step brothers (the alchemist & evidence)

You know you've become a music nerd when you start following other people besides the actual artist when it comes to albums. Sure, the artist often has his or her own unique presence and style and you get some artists who will handle every element of their music - writing, music, production, everything - but not all of them do. And thus, there are other talents behind the scenes that deserve attention. In country music, for instance, since most modern country acts don't write all of their own music, it's a good idea to keep an eye out for certain songwriters. And in hip-hop, you want to keep your eye on certain producers, the people who have a reputation for creating beats and mixes for acts to rap or sing over.

Which takes us to the group we'll be talking about today. If you're familiar with underground hip-hop, you should be familiar with both of these men, both hip-hop producers and rappers in their own right. The first is The Alchemist, known mostly for being the DJ who works with Shady Records and Eminem, but he also has a selection of very well-received albums under his belt. The second man is Evidence, who I last talked about on his collaboration with LMNO on the team-up album After The Fact, which ended up making my list of the best albums of 2013. Now The Alchemist and Evidence have worked together plenty of times before, and they didn't really intend on doing a straight team up until they realized by happenstance that they had enough tracks for a full-length collaboration. So they called their new duo Step Brothers, brought together a group of underground rappers with whom they've collaborated over the past decade (which include Oh No, Action Bronson, Rakaa, Fashawn, and Roc Marciano) for verses, and they've now dropped a new album titled Lord Steppington. Now let me stress this: I've been psyched for this album since I heard about it months ago, as it reminded me a lot of the last underground hip-hop collaboration I covered, which was Run The Jewels by Killer Mike and El-P and was one of the best albums of the year. So how did this collaboration turn out?

Monday, January 20, 2014

video review: 'mind over matter' by young the giant

Fully expect some nasty fallout for this one, but what are you going to do, stop? Hardly.

Next up... well, we'll see. Stay tuned!

album review: 'mind over matter' by young the giant

Just over a year ago, when I made my list of the Top Ten Best Hit Songs of 2012, I put Imagine Dragons' 'It's Time' on the list and I made the comment that it was a song that only charted for two reasons: the increased swell of indie rock and Glee. Yes, the TV show everyone loves to hate featured that song at the beginning of their fourth season and it helped get 'It's Time' on the charts. In fact, if you take a deeper look at the growth of indie rock in the mainstream, you can give a lot of the credit to Glee for getting acts like fun. and Gotye to chart.

But here the thing: there have been other indie rock acts who have tried to utilize Glee for chart success, and they haven't all worked out. And today, we're going to be talking about one of them that didn't take off: Young The Giant, an act I can throw into the mix with Foster The People and The Neighbourhood as an indie rock act I really can't stand. And the frustrating fact is that from the pool of influences that Young The Giant is drawing from, I should like this band a lot more than I do. The guitar work reminds me of a blend of Franz Ferdinand and Snow Patrol, the lead vocalist reminds me a bit of Chris Martin, and the lyrics have a freeform cryptic style to which I typically find intriguing.

But after listening to their debut self-titled album, I had to come to the conclusion that none of this material is better than the sum of its parts. The guitars are leaden and swallowed by feedback and reverb, so none of the tightness comes through and yet for some bizarre reason there's none of the dramatic emotional swell that the reverb was supposed to create (in other words, trying to be Snow Patrol or U2 and failing). Lead vocalist Sameer Gadhia has an agreeable voice but nothing all that special in indie rock and the production doesn't lend him a lot of texture. And as for the lyrics... look, I like freeform, oblique lyrics, I listen to The Flaming Lips, Nick Cave, and Bill Callahan for God's sake. But there needs to be some cohesion, and Young The Giant didn't have that with their debut. There's some decent imagery and some phrases that sound deep at first listen, but the second you start looking for deeper meaning or any sort of theme or start thinking about these songs at all, nothing materializes as distinct or all that likable. And I'll say it: I liked the Glee cover of 'Cough Syrup' than Young The Giant's version of it - the guitar was tighter and more distinct in the mix, Darren Criss has more passion, and the production doesn't feel as grey and devoid of texture.

So some of you are inevitably wondering, 'Well, if he doesn't like this band, why the hell is he reviewing their follow-up album?' Four reasons: you guys requested it; I'm always willing to give acts a second chance; the band changed labels, arguably for the better and Young The Giant did take four years off between albums and for their newest album, they're working with Justin Mendel-Johnsen, a producer who has worked with Beck, M83, and Tegan and Sara and who I quite like. Perhaps the band would be able to pull something together that would be surprisingly strong, who knows? So I gave their newest album Mind Over Matter a chance - was it better than their debut?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

video review: 'write you a song' by jon pardi

I really need to stop forgetting to post these videos earlier. Gah.

In any case, next up will probably be the new album from Young The Giant. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 17, 2014

album review: 'write you a song' by jon pardi

Way back in my Special Comment on the state of modern country music, I made an observation that I feel will prove frighteningly relevant this year: that when the bro-country bubble implodes, there are going to be a lot of new country acts who hopped on the bandwagon who are going to suffer from it. Sure, the a-list acts like Luke Bryan are going nowhere, but what about the b-listers, the guys who might only be able to count on one or two hits charting at all? What will happen to their careers when the bro-country well runs dry?

And make no mistake, it's coming. Between the increasingly large number of country acts speaking out against the trend and both songwriters and radio programmers questioning the lack of diversity in country radio, the winds are changing. Even guys like Florida Georgia Line are opting for less obviously pandering bro-country with their new singles like 'Stay', to prove they are more than just 'Cruise'. As such, I'm suspecting 2014 will be a transitional year for country music, and from a look at upcoming albums, it could be a very interesting one.

That said, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of unease when I picked up the debut album of Jon Pardi. His 'hit' was 'Up All Night', which was a song that did fit into the realm of interchangeable bro-country, albeit with a little less of the leering sensibilities that irk me in that genre. And combined with a criminally underwritten Wikipedia page and every picture of the guy reinforcing the bro-country image, I got the feeling Jon Pardi might be headed for rough times in the early months of 2014 as a very late arrival to the bro-country scene. But then again, there has been bro-country songs and material I've liked, so I gave the album a few listens - how did it turn out?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

video review: 'that girl' by jennifer nettles

Well, that was a quick one. Next up is Jon Pardi, and then... well, I might have to put off Little Mix just to get up to date on the avalanche of albums coming out next week. Stay tuned!

album review: 'that girl' by jennifer nettles

Let's go back to 2010, specifically the mainstream charts. The club boom is in full force, and Ke$ha's 'Tik Tok' will top the Billboard Hot 100 Year End Chart. And even though 'Need You Now' by Lady Antebellum will be a close second, it's one of the few country songs that managed to run the gauntlet and chart at all this year. Say what you will about 2013's confused, often boring year-end chart, it at least had variety, which isn't exactly what you could say about 2010. And country barely notched anything on that year-end chart at all, the ones that did courtesy of pop/adult-alternative crossover success in the vein of Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum, and the Band Perry.

But nestled near the bottom of the chart was a fluke single from the country duo Sugarland titled 'Stuck Like Glue', which along with Orianthi's 'According To You' and Sara Bareilles' 'King Of Anything' stood out on the chart as being decidedly different. Now 'Stuck Like Glue' wasn't better than either of those songs, but it was definitely unique, half characterized by instrumentation that balanced quirk and accessibility and half by lead singer Jennifer Nettles' distinctly memorable voice. It's a bit hard to characterize: she sounds a bit like a country version of Shakira singing with gum in her mouth on that particular track, and though it was pleasant, it was peculiar enough to get distracting.

And yet, after Sugarland had their breakthrough hit on the mainstream charts, they didn't really do much else, mostly due circumstances outside the music, with a stage collapse in 2011 that killed seven people and Jennifer Nettles taking time off to have a baby. What's important to note, though, is that The Incredible Machine (the album 'Stuck Like Glue' was on) wasn't really well-received by critics - they called it a pop sellout and considered it a big step away from Sugarland's first three decidedly country albums. And thus when I picked up Jennifer Nettles' solo album That Girl, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would she return to her country roots, or would she continue in the pop-country direction that Sugarland had been on before?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

video review: 'fading west' by switchfoot

Well, glad this is out of my system. Next up should be a few country albums and then I think I'll tackle Little Mix's Salute, just to finally get it out of my system. Stay tuned!

album review: 'fading west' by switchfoot

The worst thing you could ever say to a rock band is that they're boring.

I'm serious here. Think about it from a larger historical context - there have been plenty of bad rock bands throughout the years, especially whenever certain 'movements' of rock have gotten any sort of prominence in the mainstream. But there's a place in conversation about aggressively bad rock bands, because they're at least interesting to talk about even if it is to viciously slag them over and over again. The name remains embedded in the cultural conversation, and ten years later when we're talking about bad bands, we'll remember them for being awful. As much as so many people hate Nickelback or Linkin Park (and really, there are so many worse bands than either of these two - trust somebody who knows), all the hatred they've received hasn't exactly stopped them and won't wipe from the history books when musical scholars have the misfortune to examine the first decade of the 21st century.

But calling a rock band boring is so much worse - because they might not be bad, per se, but being 'acceptable' or 'passable' often translates in a few years outside of a hardcore fanbase into 'forgettable'. And really, the more I look back on the post-grunge scene of the late-90s and 2000s, the more I see bands in this vein completely disappearing from the cultural memory within a few more years. And you want your music to last... well, I can't think of a worse fate.

And now we come to Switchfoot, one of the most strikingly anonymous rock bands to which I've ever listened - mostly because they sound very much like the watered-down versions of whatever style of music was big at the time. Of course, that didn't exactly surprise me given that they started in the Christian rock scene in the late 90s, and they haven't exactly left that genre behind (I'll come back to this). And while Switchfoot has never really had an evangelical bent, those first five or so albums felt very neutered and lacked a certain edge of them, especially in comparison with their contemporaries like The Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age. They were inoffensive, lightweight rock that didn't take any chances, and considering how much they were cribbing from other bands - first the mainstream post-grunge, then a very poor man's Queens of the Stone Age and then moving towards some of the lighter adult alternative in the mid-2000s. They were never as bad as Skillet or Creed, but neither were they anything close to being worth recommending.

But around their album Oh! Gravity, someone apparently told the band that a shift to a more serious, rougher tone might work better for them. On the one hand, the guitars got harsher and more ragged and started reminding me of Foo Fighters minus the memorable riffs - but on the other hand, the tone got darker, and that made the band a whole lot less tolerable. And it was a number of factors, too: Jon Foreman isn't remotely convincing as a heavier singer, the lyrics still weren't much to write home about, and there was an awkward defensiveness (especially on Vice Verses) that really got on my nerves. Despite the fact that Switchfoot never went evangelical, their lack of real humour or wit began to make their preachier songs a lot less tolerable. So I wasn't exactly enthused when I geared myself up to listen to Fading West. I mean, after seven goddamn albums of lightweight, not-particularly memorable Christian rock, did Fading West manage to surprise me?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

video review: 'my own lane' by kid ink

Whoops, forgot about this yesterday. Ah well, caught it now.

Next up will probably be Switchfoot... really? Do I have to? 

Ugh, fine.

Friday, January 10, 2014

album review: 'my own lane' by kid ink

So believe it or not, I do read a lot of other people's reviews of music - not because I'm looking to parrot someone else's opinion or seek validation in critical consensus, but because I'm always curious where and why my points of view might clash with others'. And the fact that there is critical disagreement isn't a bad thing either - people have differing opinions, and civil debate and discussion is always appreciated.

And nowhere on the internet is that sort of debate and discussion more intense than when it comes to hip-hop, particularly acts that sit on the borderline between underground and mainstream success. Now I'll admit that pop-rap isn't always my thing, but there are ways of doing it well, I have a higher tolerance for pop than most, and I was willing to keep an open mind when I dug into the independently released debut album from LA rapper Kid Ink Up & Away. I mean, it's early January, nothing much comes out this time of year, and I wanted to make sure I did my research. And besides, it couldn't be that bad, right?

Well, it wasn't. Look, Kid Ink's Up & Away isn't great, but it's okay and has a couple decent club bangers on it that I did like. Part of my issues with it come in Kid Ink's choice of hip-hop 'sound': the nebulous subgenre of 'cloud rap', which is characterized by ethereal sounds, odd samples, and futuristic beats. Kid Ink sticks with an accessible form of the genre in instrumentation and subject matter, and while cloud rap has more of a focus on melodies, I found the instrumentation to be a little cluttered and the production a little too slick. Most of that masks the bigger problem with Kid Ink as a rapper - namely, that he's not all that interesting. His flow is a blend of Drake and Chris Brown, and he has neither Drake's wordplay or emotional heft or Chris Brown's singing voice. The best word to describe him coming off of Up & Away is inoffensive - it's not something special or all that memorable, but some of the grander melodies are enjoyable enough and there's some occasionally good wordplay. So, what happened with his follow-up and major label debut, My Own Lane?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

special comment: 'pain & gain = wolf of wall street = spring breakers' (VIDEO)

My first movie-related video, where I talk about three films I liked, their striking similarities, and why the outrage against them is misplaced.

Next up... well, it's not going to be Asher Roth, because he delayed his album - again. So, I'll probably cover Kid Ink. Stay tuned!

special comment: pain & gain = wolf of wall street = spring breakers

There were three movies released this past year that I liked a great deal. Three 2013 films that came from different directors, had different casts, released at different points this year, and received vastly different critical appraisals. One came from cinematic junk food director Michael Bay, guilty of the Transformers movies and all manner of other garbage cinema. One came from Martin Scorsese, responsible for Goodfellas, Raging Bull, The Departed, and one of the men most responsible for transforming Leonardo DiCaprio into a movie star. And one came from Harmony Korine, a film-school dropout whose last film was called Trash Humpers and who can be blamed for writing the script of atrocities like Ken Park.

The movies I'm talking about are Pain & Gain, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Spring Breakers - and they all exist on the exact same spectrum. The movies are mostly trying to do different things, but they exist in the same universe and share a disturbing amount of common elements. And the moral outrage that was - in my opinion, wrongly - hurled at all three films comes from the exact same place - as will the people who love these films for all the wrong reasons

What, don't believe me? Let's start with a basic plot synopsis of all three films.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

video review: 'dirty gold' by angel haze

Huh, I should have put this up days ago. MAGFest sort of got in the way of that, but that's to be expected, I think.

Next up will probably be (sigh) Asher Roth. Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

album review: 'dirty gold' by angel haze

Let's talk a bit about record labels.

It tends to be a well-known fact that the music industry has taken several body blows with the rise of digital distribution, streaming, and iTunes, with major record labels taking the majority of the heavy hits (no matter how much they like to blame it on piracy or artists behaving badly). And thanks to the connotations in popular culture associated with record labels thanks to endless negative portrayals in music, television, movies, etc., most people don't have the slightest degree of sympathy and would be happy to see them abolished entirely.

Now, I don't really share this opinion - in fact, I'd argue record labels play two important roles in the music 'process' that is often overlooked. For one, they handle a lot of the 'business' side of the industry in terms of promotion, production, and distribution, leaving the artists to be concerned about the art - like it or not, most artists aren't Jay-Z and don't have the business sense to handle this effective. And for another, record labels often act as an editorial board, something that artists might not like but is an essential part of the process. Speaking as a published author, it's always irksome to go through editing and criticism, but my work is often better for it and it's a constant acknowledgement that I'm far from perfect. Or let's put this another way - while I'm all for preserving the purity of artistic digressions, people have to eat, and session musicians, producers, managers, and the rest of the personnel involved in the creation of an album have to get paid - if the album doesn't sell well, that doesn't always happen.

So yeah, record labels have a purpose - the issue becomes how those labels are run. Thanks to the CD bloat of the late 90s, many major labels experienced obscene growth thanks to shady business practices, chart manipulation, and executive meddling in album releases - and that boom was unsustainable. But while the labels' relevance have waned, their attitudes haven't changed - and for once, artists aren't taking it lying down anymore. Macklemore wrote several songs about industry politics and ended up being the biggest charting success this year off of his own independent label, and I did a special comment discussing RCA and Kemosabe's disastrous business decisions in cancelling the Ke$ha and Flaming Lips collaboration Lip$ha in order to try to rein their rebellious artist in (and man, that's backfired big time - have you all seen the 'Dirty Love' video yet?). So I wasn't entirely surprised when upcoming hip-hop artist Angel Haze threw her label obligations to the wind and leaked her entire debut album in frustration. The story goes that the label said they would release the album if Angel Haze had finished it during the summer - but when the label went back on their word and scheduled the release for early 2014 (after Angel Haze finished the album in June of last year), she leaked the album. On the one hand, applause for being gutsy and following through on the bluff, but on the other hand, she basically guaranteed that outside of her fanbase, she's not going to be getting the same degree of promotion from the label, to say nothing of critical attention because nobody covers albums released in mid-to-late December by people not named Beyonce. But let's put the politics aside: how's the album?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014