Thursday, July 31, 2014

video review: 'nobody's smiling by common'

The video went up late last night, but it's here now, and honestly, I'm pretty pleased with how it came out. Just wish the record had been a little better.

Next up, Shabazz Palaces... but it'll be a review that'll come on either Friday or Saturday, because I'm seeing Jack White tonight in concert! Either way, stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

album review: 'nobody's smiling' by common

It's hard to tackle legends - especially when those legends easily made at least four albums I would consider bonafide classics. Especially when those legends aren't just significant to the music, but the culture that surrounds the music. Artists responsible for making some powerfully gripping and intelligent conscious hip-hop that also managed to be accessible to any audience willing to take the time to listen.

Yeah, I'm talking about Common, Chicago rapper known for his collaborations with No ID, The Roots, Erykah Badu, and Kanye West, who has earned a ton of critical acclaim for a succession of albums in the 90s and one in the mid 2000s that are damn close to masterpieces. The man is witty, intelligent, has a solid flow, and is incredibly charismatic, and he had the imagination and creativity to make some socially conscious and challenging records. Hell, while I won't say his 2002 effort Electric Circus works all the way through - it doesn't, mostly due to a broad lack of lyrical focus - it's certainly a fascinating listen with some genuinely inspired musical ideas.

But after his brilliant 2005 soulful success in Be, Common has struggled. Finding Forever felt like a less-inspired sequel to his last record and Universal Mind Control showed Common dumbing it down to disastrous results. And by the time Common released The Dreamer/The Believer in 2011, I was a little uncertain where Common seemed to be looking to go, especially as that album tried to toe the line between easy-going partying and the conscious rap for which he's most known. Granted, the album was pretty decent, but it was nowhere near his greats and did feel a little uninspired at points.

But with the escalating gang violence in Chicago which has only intensified over the past few years and the growing number of Chicago MCs either speaking against it or reveling in it, I knew it was only a matter of time before Common returned to his roots and spoke on this directly. And frankly, I was really interested: not only was one of the strongest MCs from Chicago going to address the critically ignored issue, he was going to speak to it with familiarity and a serious grit that was bound to draw serious interest. So I checked out Nobody's Smiling by Common - how was it?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

video review: 'in technicolor' by jesse mccartney

I kind of wish this record was better than it was. Not a bad record by any stretch, but still...

Okay, Common next. Stay tuned!

album review: 'in technicolor' by jesse mccartney

So about a year ago, I went to see The Backstreet Boys live in concert, and surprise surprise, it was a great show. All five of them sound fantastic, they're still stellar dancers, and the multi-part harmonies were paired with some killer pop hits that have allowed them to sell out some pretty sizable venues. Even if you're not a fan of the group or you think that the 90s boy bands should have stayed in that decade and be rightly forgotten, it'd be hard to deny that the Backstreet Boys' longevity and stage production was pretty damn solid.

But what surprised me about the show was their opening act: Jesse McCartney, an act of which the majority of you probably forgot existed but who was briefly relevant in the spotlight in the confused pop charts of the late 2000s with his two major singles 'Leavin'' and 'How Do You Sleep'. And honestly, I really liked 'Leavin' and a few relistens reminded me why - the electronic elements were tasteful, it was confident and sincere without being insufferable, and the abuse of autotune that plagued R&B-inspired pop songs of the era was mostly muted. It was the definition of the sort of slick pop song Justin Timberlake could knock out of the park in his sleep - and unsurprisingly, the comparisons started immediately and were mostly unfair, because the two acts were in different lanes. Timberlake was gunning for Michael Jackson's throne, where Jesse McCartney had his eyes more on the blue-eyed soul of the past.

And thus, I really shouldn't be surprised that he finally managed to get his fourth album released when with the success of classier acts like Sam Smith, neo-soul acts seemed primed for chart success. And since I really did like his opening act and was curious to see more, I took a look at that album: how is it?

Monday, July 28, 2014

video review: 'jungle' by jungle

Ugh, this was a dud. You hope indie projects in this vein would turn out better than this.

Okay, I need a little more time for Shabazz Palaces and Common, so next up will be someone you normally haven't seen and might not expect. Stay tuned!

album review: 'jungle' by jungle

Let's talk a little about disco.

As a genre, it tends to have a much worse reputation than it really deserves for a lot of wrong reasons. It was scorned because it was dance music made primarily by producers instead of songwriters... but then again, we now live in an era where EDM has become one of the hottest selling genres worldwide. It was hated because it was synthetic and electronic and felt plastic... in other words, like every other genre that touches pop music in the mainstream for the past twenty years. It was loathed because it emerged from the gay dance club scene and thus the backlash that had been seething against that music and much of the black culture that had supported the jazz, funk, and soul of its roots finally had an outlet to explode, and I shouldn't even have to tell you why that backlash was at best misguided and at worst moronic. If we're looking for a more legitimate reason why disco died in the late 70s, it was the same reasons any music trend dies: musical evolution in sound and style; and sheer overexposure.

But given the current musical and political climate and especially the resurgence of soul, dance music and even reggae-inspired tracks on the charts, it wasn't a surprise that acts began jumping towards a new incarnation of disco, even in the underground where with the rise of the internet it has never been easier for unknown acts to snag chart smashes. So with that comes Jungle, a band that began as a viral sensation in 2013 before signing to XL and dropping a debut album they described as 'midtempo 70s-inspired funk'. That, if anything, was enough to attract my interest, so I gave that self-titled debut a few listens: how did it go?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

video review: 'never hungover again' by joyce manor

Man, I have to stop forgetting to post these....

Okay, next up... honestly, not sure. Got some crazy ideas in the can, so we'll see what happens, so stay tuned!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

album review: 'never hungover again' by joyce manor

So here's the problem with being a video reviewer that covers punk records in any capacity: if you're not careful, you might end up taking longer than the album itself. So much of punk - especially hardcore punk - worked best by distilling their formula down to a razor sharp, precisely timed slice of music, which operated as something of a double-edged sword. If you do it right, you can create something with blisteringly sharp, potent impact, but if you don't hit the right spot at precisely the right time, your album could come across as ephemeral.

Enter Joyce Manor, a California-based punk act that crashed onto the indie scene with their self-titled record in 2011 and followed it with Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired in 2012, both of which are records that are pretty damn solid across the board for the ten to fifteen minutes you get them. Initially, I was pretty impressed by the songwriting - it bites hard from the broadly sketched metaphors of teenage angst, but then again, so did Green Day - but what hooked me was the more experimental side on that second album, experimenting with dirty lo-fi records more reminiscent of Beck balanced against the decidedly poppier songs, all brought together by Barry Johnson's honestly cynical, too-smart-for-the-room delivery. The contrast immediately drew comparisons to the Smiths, because music critics make hyperbolic comparisons way too quickly when they spot obvious talent - and they weren't the only ones, as Joyce Manor signed to Epitaph Records for their new record Never Hungover Again, their longest album at ten songs and just under twenty minutes! So I checked it out - what did I get?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

video review: 'more than any other day' by ought (RETRO REVIEW)

Well, glad to finally get THIS off my plate. Took way too long - and filming this one was a real pain in the ass - but I'm glad it's done.

No idea what to cover next, but you can bet I'm not covering fucking Jason Mraz. Either way, stay tuned!

album review: 'more than any other day' by ought (RETRO REVIEW)

First, a brief history lesson: two years ago in the spring of 2012 the Liberal government of the Canadian province of Quebec aimed to raise university tuition rates approximately 75% from about $2100 per year to just under $3800. To the rest of Canada, this particular act was greeted with a mixed response. On the one hand, speaking as a guy just out of university, it sucks when your university tuition is raised by any amount, as it makes it harder for students to afford an education, which was originally the purpose of the tuition freeze in the first place. On the other hand, Quebec has had the lowest tuition in the country by thousands of dollars for Quebec residents, and their universities were starting to feel the pinch in maintaining or upgrading facilities, so breaking the tuition freeze did make a certain amount of sense. 

But you wouldn't have heard those discussions in Quebec, because throughout the spring of 2012, thousands of students took to the streets in protest, with several riots breaking out that the provincial government promptly overreacted to and the whole thing turned into a gigantic, politically ruinous mess. So why bring it up? Well, from that tumultuous incident came Ought, a Montreal based band blending the artier side of punk music with indie rock that seemed to be directly inspired by that event, along with Richard Hell and especially the Talking Heads. Now I originally planned on reviewing this record when it came out several months ago, but I figured now is as good of a time as ever to delve into the band and continue my foray into Canadian indie rock. So, what did I find?

album review: 'alvvays' by alvvays

Well, this was a damn great surprise. I might have to do this sort of Pitchfork diving more often.

And you know, I think I'm going to stick on the side of Canadian indie rock for a bit longer and handle some old business I should have talked about months ago. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

album review: 'alvvays' by alvvays

For those of you who weren't watching my series a good year ago or those who perused my back catalog back before I had a decent camera or any presence in front of it, you might remember that I didn't exactly have a lot of material to cover in the middle of the summer. There's a reason for that: like early January, the mid-summer tends to be a dead zone for album releases under the assumption that the radio has already locked in their 'songs of the summer' and people will have already picked up the albums they want if they're going to the beach or cottage or the backyard barbeque. And in a year where the pop charts have been fairly stagnant in terms of turnover or are populated by singles from albums released last year, it leaves album critics like myself in a bit of a tight spot. It's gotten to the point where the albums battling out for the top spot this week are Jason Mraz and Weird Al Yankovic, neither of which are acts you would ever expect to get a #1 hit!

And since I already covered Weird Al and you couldn't pay me to cover Jason Mraz, I thought I might hop into my backlog of critically acclaimed records that I may have passed over - but the problem with that is I already covered most of those records too, and the ones I might have missed have discographies that require a bit more time to peel through before I feel confident in talking about them. So in sheer desperation, I went that wretched hive of scum and villainy - Pitchfork - and grabbed the first record that looked somewhat interesting, a debut album from a Canadian band called Alvvays. Based out of Toronto, they're an indie pop quintet that is advertised as pairing 'millennial social anxiety with breezy effortlessly cool surf rock'. In other words, the perfect act to drop an album in the middle of summer. So I picked up that self-titled debut album and gave it a listen: how was it?

Monday, July 21, 2014

video review: 'trouble in paradise' by la roux

Yeah, that Sadistik review isn't happening, I don't think. Every draft of it did not work, so I'm probably not going to cover it unless I get really desperate.

But then again, we're now entering the point of the year where nothing is coming out. So expect some odd shit over the next few days, so stay tuned!

album review: 'trouble in paradise' by la roux

Someday when pop culture historians sit down to write about the rise of EDM in the United States, they'd be wise to keep in mind two very important factors. The first is an admission that despite some of the genres roots coming from the discos and club scenes in Detroit and Chicago, it wasn't the US that was responsible for turning EDM into the worldwide phenomenon it is today. For that, you need to give the majority of the credit to Europe, who had been engaging in fluorescent explosions of pounding bass and gleaming synth lines for decades before rave and festival culture reappeared the Atlantic. For me, the years that always jump out as the 'peak' of said scene was the very late 80s and early 90s, especially in England with the moves to fuse the baroque weirdness of synthpop of all stripes with dance music. 

The other factor, of course, is the club boom, an era from approximately 2009 to 2012 where mainstream culture gravitated towards nightclubs thanks to a resurgence in synthpop and the success of mainstream hip-hop in pushing that lifestyle and sound. What tends to get glossed over in this story is that after several years of mainstream radio generally ignoring European music, several synthpop acts from other markets broke through around this time. These are acts like Robyn, Ellie Goulding, and the artist we're going to be talking about today, La Roux, who smashed onto mainstream radio with 'Bulletproof', a song all hard-edged synths and a fiercely dynamic vocal performances by Elly Jackson. What made the album stand out for me was the razor-edged balance between raw vulnerability and confidence, and much sharper lyrics than you normally see in this brand of synthpop - in other words, La Roux for me was the proto-CHVRCHES.

And yet after 'Bulletproof' and world-wide tours, La Roux dropped off the face of the earth. Elly Jackson admitted she wasn't ready for the insane fame that comes with such a hit and took a step back, eventually parting ways with her longtime producer partner Ben Langmaid, but not before writing a few songs for the new album Trouble In Paradise, an album coming five years after their self-titled debut and into a very different pop and dance music climate. So, how does it hold up?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

video review: 'strange desire' by bleachers

Holy shit, completely forgot to post this. Yeah, the album's awesome and getting better every time I listen through it. But yet it's one of those records that will not click with everyone and I get why.

Okay, I need to get this Sadistik review out of my system. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

album review: 'strange desire' by bleachers

I've made it no secret that I'm a fan of the indie rock act fun., who came into sharp prominence in the mainstream thanks to a lucky Glee collaboration and three killer singles. Now I'm a fan of fun. for a number of reasons, and I'd make the argument their best songs likely came on Aim & Ignite the album before Jeff Bhasker got his hands on their mixes and amped the bombast to eleven and made the Queen parallels all the more stark. And sure, it was cheesy and utterly ridiculous, but there was a certain pop grandeur to their material that always underscored their material, an earnest sincerity that belied their killer melody lines and Nate Ruess' impressive voice.

But here's the funny thing about indie rock acts: most, if not all of the band members typically have at least one or two side projects running simultaneously, especially when they're hoping for that next mainstream crossover hit. And fun. is no exception, and while many pegged Nate Ruess as the breakout star as the frontman, I made sure to take notice when I heard about Bleachers the solo side project of Jack Antonoff, the lead guitarist of fun. and a contributing songwriter for Tegan & Sara, Christina Perri, and Sara Bareilles. And when I heard that he had managed to rope in Grimes and Yoko Ono to boost his indie cred, I figured the debut album was at least worth a few listens. Was I right?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

video review: 'mandatory fun' by "weird al" yankovic

Man, this record was a ton of fun. Really enjoyed it, definitely worth my recommendation.

Okay, next up... hmmm, not quite sure. Probably Sadistik. We'll see. Either way, stay tuned!

album review: 'mandatory fun' by "weird al" yankovic

If you've been following this review series at all for a while, you may have come to a certain conclusion about yours truly: that I am, despite all appearances, am a total nerd. And I'm here to inform you that...

Yeah, duh. Amazing what the passage of time has done, isn't it? Twenty or even ten years ago, such an admittance would have tantamount to social suicide, but in today's day and age, where The Big Bang Theory can run for over seven seasons, conventions are attended by tens of thousands of people if not more, and comic book & toy movies can enlist A-list talent and break box office records, admitting I've got deeply nerdy interests is - and indeed, never should have been - an object of remorse or shame. And yeah, I'm the kind of nerd who has hundreds of fantasy and sci-fi novels, can quote Monty Python and Star Wars verbatim, used to be a Dungeon Master when playing D&D, occasionally still goes to Magic: The Gathering tournaments, has a physics degree, and has Aragorn's longsword Anduril from The Lord of The Rings mounted on his wall. 

And like the majority of nerds, I love Weird Al Yankovic, the legendary polka comedy performer who has spent over thirty years parodying pop music with a razor-sharp wit and relentlessly upbeat sense of humour. It should go without saying at this point that the man is a cultural treasure with extraordinary wit and talent, and who is beloved by artists and pop satirists around the world, and it's impressive that he can still come up with innovative and relevant comedy for so long in his career without becoming bitter or jaded or hotly political. 

But over the past few years, something decidedly odd has taken place - the world and especially the Internet embraced nerd culture, and suddenly it wasn't just Weird Al making comedy songs and videos and parodies. And given how damn quickly so many of them work, especially on YouTube with its five minute attention span, it was a little unsettling to think that Weird Al might be crowded out of the market he helped create - or worse, that his material not be as relevant given the lightning turnaround time for so many YouTube comedians and parody acts. That was one of the issues that I found when I listened to his last album Alpocalypse, which took material from across three years of pop music and while I liked a great deal of it, there were parts that even then felt a little dated.

But putting that minor concern aside, this is Weird Al, and if his appearance on Epic Rap Battles of History didn't prove that the man still had enormous chops, I don't know what would, and so of course I was excited for his newest album Mandatory Fun, and since none of this album had been leaked ahead of time, I had no idea what to expect. Was it as fun and hilarious as I hoped?

video review: 'dark comedy' by open mike eagle

Wow, this was incredible. The record may have taken a long time to review, but it definitely was worth covering. Trust me, get this album, it's awesome.

Next up is Weird Al and some real solid comedy. Stay tuned!

Monday, July 14, 2014

album review: 'dark comedy' by open mike eagle

So, how many of you are absolutely sick of the songs about money, cars, drugs, and hos in hip-hop music?

Look, I'm of the belief that you can talk about anything and everything you want to in music, so long as you do it well, but to say that certain subjects in rap music can wear me out shouldn't be all that surprising. I'm usually a fan of when rappers take established cliches and subvert them or heighten them for parody or satire, like what Clipping and The Roots did on their most recent records, or when they at least can present the cliches impressively with good rapping technique, flow, or poetic language. 

But there's another side to hip-hop outside of gangsta rap: the vaguely defined yet endlessly interesting subgenre of alternative hip-hop that tends to avoid traditional rap cliches and draws upon richer wells for their instrumentation and style, like jazz or soul or reggae or electronica or even country and folk. Originally rising in parallel with alternative rock throughout the late 80s and early 90s, it was unfortunately sidelined and shoved into the underground by the fast rise of the more commercially-viable, hard-edged gangsta rap. Thankfully, with the rise of the internet, more of these acts have risen to prominence and critical acclaim, even if the radio doesn't want to play material that intelligent or political or experimental.

And at the intersection of all three of those adjectives you'd find Open Mike Eagle, an alternative hip-hop artist originally from Chicago before going to LA, he first came to my attention in 2011 with his shockingly intelligent and unsettling record Rappers Will Die Of Natural Causes, partially because of his plain-spoken yet attention-grabbing flow, partially because of his dark, yet varied melody-driven production, and partially because there was a certain frank honesty and punch to his wordplay that spoke of some real maturity and knack for telling interesting stories and assuming his audience was smart enough to keep up. He followed it up with 4MNL HSPTL, a much glitchier and darker record that pulled back on the humor and targeted some much more serious subject matter - like the financial crisis, articulated in plain, easy-to-follow language that was rich with references to history and culture that proved that Open Mike Eagle knew exactly what he was talking about. So while this review is almost a month late, I knew I had to sit down at discuss Open Mike Eagle's newest record Dark Comedy, and for this record I took my time and over a dozen listens to really unpack and decipher it - what did I find?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

video review: 'the black market' by rise against (feat. AlbumReviewTV)

No written version of this review this time, because it's a collaboration with AlbumReviewTV on his channel! Jon and I really did have a great conversation about this album, which I thought was actually a pretty damn great step for the band towards pop punk and it really grabbed me in a good way.

Next up, I need to talk about Open Mike Eagle and Sadistik, and that Weird Al album is on the horizon. But I'll need to have those finished up before Friday, because I will be at the Hamilton Convention Center for ConBravo this Friday through to Sunday! Stop by to say hello if you're there - I'll be ambling in and out of panels, playing MtG, and drinking profusely, so I hope to see you there! But until then, stay tuned!

Friday, July 11, 2014

video review: 'paramore' by paramore (year one anniversary)

Man, this video took a ton out of me to get out. Would have been up yesterday, but the process to get everything to work was absolutely nuts, and that's not counting the noise complaint, the numerous glitches, and the upload process that kept failing. Thankfully, it works, and I sincerely hope it's everything you could have wanted.

And as we settle into the doldrums of summer, my schedule lightens significantly. I still want to talk about Open Mike Eagle - late, but still relevant - and Sadistik, but coming up soon is that new album from Rise Against, on which I will be joining as a special guest, so stay tuned for that!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

album review: 'paramore' by paramore

I don't think anybody should have been surprised by Paramore's career trajectory - and that anybody who knows my style of reviews should not really be surprised why I completely passed them by in 2013.

See, Paramore started off in the mid-2000s as a band loosely affiliated with emo with the harsher guitars, but it was a band that had its eyes fixed on one particular bandwagon: that of the pop starlets with attitude in the vein of Pink or Avril Lavigne or Kelly Clarkson. And considering this was a subgenre I liked in the decidedly uncertain pop landscape of the mid-2000s, when I was a teenager, you'd think I would have jumped on the Paramore bandwagon... but no, every single I heard from the band never really impressed me. That first album All We Know Is Falling was decent enough for its teenage angst and decent and Hayley Williams was a born star behind the microphone, but the songwriting did nothing for me whatsoever, lacking the colour and description and rawness that always gave Pink or Avril Lavignre distinctive presence. And coupled with some bare-bones melody lines and not stellar production, I could not have been less interested in Paramore.

Then came the second record Riot!, which was better and had 'Misery Business', 'crushcrushcrush', and 'Fences', three songs that actually had some interesting melodies and some better articulated subject matter. But for the most part most of the album fell into the grey zone of pop rock for me, lacking the edginess or punch of rock or the gripping hooks of pop to really stick with me, and while the songwriting had gotten better, I couldn't help but feel that the production was holding this album back from being truly great - just a little too flat and lacking in melodic focus to really stick with me. And with the slow collapse of the pop rock boom and rumors of instabilities within the band, I didn't expect to see another record. But in 2009 they apparently resolved enough of their differences to release Brand New Eyes, which was okay and did show a bit of improvement in the songwriting, but it wasn't as catchy or interesting as Riot! and it was this album that brought 'The Only Exception', which for me sealed Paramore's new pop direction after pop rock dropped off the mainstream radar.

And with that shift came a change in lineup, as the brothers Josh and Zac Farro both left the band in 2011 for reasons that spanned creative differences, accusations that Hayley Williams was being trumped up as the star over the rest of the band, and even conflicts in relligion and the band's content. Either way, it was an entirely different act that released Paramore's self-titled album last year, one of their biggest and most successful to date. So now, you're all looking for me to answer the big question: is it any good?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

video review: '1000 forms of fear' by sia

Man, I wanted to like this more. Unfortunately, this album falls prey to a lot of the same problems I have with modern pop production, plus more.

Next up is the one-year anniversary special, the album you chose for me to cover... what will it be? Stay tuned!

album review: '1000 forms of fear' by sia

The more I think about it, the less I think anyone should be surprised that Sia's career trajectory went the way it did.

See, while the mainstream likely became acquainted with Sia thanks to her appearances on Flo Rida's 'Wild Ones' or David Guetta's 'Titanium' or from the noted songwriting credits she has scattered across the pop landscape over the past few years, Sia has been around a fair bit longer in the indie pop scene with a selection of albums that were reasonably well-received, if not exactly critically acclaimed. Her original selection of material started in the vein of downtempo R&B, which was a brilliant fit for her solid melodic composition, emotive delivery, and underwritten songs that worked more on emotive presence than on lyrical description. Those of you who have a grasp on my personal taste likely think the latter would mean I was never really a huge fan of hers, but that material worked for me in the same way I liked Rhye - it was subtle, it was understated, and it was powerfully vulnerable.

And yet Sia didn't stay in that vein, as she gradually began pushing her sound towards more of the quirky, flashy, borderline twee side of indie pop that I have a hard time liking. There was some of the subversive darkness in her lyrics, to be sure, but it wasn't always as much of a good fit for her new sound, especially when it came to the poetry. What it was a solid fit for was the rise of bombastic, EDM-flavoured pop in the vein of David Guetta, which didn't rely as much on lyrics as it did raw feeling and emotive presence. And sure, Sia had this, but with the underwritten lyrics, the thinner emotional framework, and her tendency to work with producers and artists who couldn't match her level of subtlety and expressiveness. On top of that, you could always recognize a song written by Sia from another artist, and while Sia could make her brand of songwriting work for her fairly consistently, it didn't exactly translate for singers like Rihanna nearly as well.

But oddly, the prospect of the flash of fame was something that Sia found profoundly uncomfortable, leading to drug and alcohol abuse and nearly a suicide attempt. Instead, she focused on writing songs for other people and only signed with RCA on the condition she didn't have to tour or do any press appearances, which led to this album, 1000 Forms Of Fear. And even though I wasn't the biggest fan of Sia, I knew her brand of confessional songwriting would likely make for some interesting music given her experiences. So, what did I discover?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

video review: 'trigga' by trey songz

Gah, this took way too long to upload.

Up next... well, it might take a day to catch up with with all the other albums I need beforehand, but I'll something by Wednesday at least. Stay tuned!

Monday, July 7, 2014

album review: 'trigga' by trey songz

So in the past, I may have mentioned that after Chris Brown's assault on Rihanna in 2009 and his justified career slump, there was a rush by the music industry to find the next big Usher-wannabe and push them into the spotlight. And in 2009/2010, we got a slew of acts getting major promotion in this area, like Taio Cruz, Jeremih, Iyaz, and two I've talked about before, Jay Sean and Jason Derulo, the latter of which managed to stick around and somehow get worse.

And among that group was Trey Songz, although he had been in the industry a little longer than most of his contemporaries and drew much more of his inspiration from one of the most influential figures in modern R&B: R. Kelly, who at the time was coming off of a string of mostly forgettable albums and one unforgettable video series. Now this isn't the first time R. Kelly has spawned artists who tried to mimic his style - acts like Ginuwine and B2K and who you likely forgot existed from the early 2000s fell into this vein - but Trey Songz managed to stick around even as R. Kelly moved into old-school R&B and soul and Chris Brown's career bounced from a resurgence to one of the worst albums released in 2012. 

Now going back to Trey Songz, I'm mostly positive on him as an artist, but he's always been the act who I would consider quite good without ever being great. Yeah, his voice is amazing, but it hasn't always complimented the icy production that tends to dominate his albums. It doesn't help matters that the dawn of Autotune in R&B really hasn't aged well, especially from between 2007 and 2010, and that can hurt some of his older material. On top of that, while I will definitely give him points for making some pretty damn solid love jams, his sleazier material has never really had the insane wit or creativity that characterized R. Kelly's work, and while he has a lot of charisma, he has never really had the soul or boundless presence that has defined Usher's best work. Both of these have meant that he tends to positioned as a B-lister - which honestly strikes me as unfair, because I'd take him over Jason Derulo or Chris Brown any day of the week. 

But now he's got a new record out, and in the wake of R. Kelly's return to convention with Black Panties being less than stellar and Chris Brown continuously delaying X as long as he possibly can, I figured Trey Songz's newest record Trigga was worth a look. What did I find?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

video review: 'don't kill the magic' by MAGIC!

Man, this review was an absolute chore to get through. Granted, some of the chore was trying - and failing - to write a review for Sam Smith, but eh, that happens.

Next up is Trey Songz, and then... hmm, not sure yet. Stay tuned!

album review: 'don't kill the magic' by MAGIC!

So if you took a look at the charts right now, you'd find that they look wildly different than they did a good four months ago. And really, that's a good thing because the beginning of 2014 became played out for the pop charts in record time, to the point where I'm honestly dreading making my year-end hit song lists and underrating songs simply because of overexposure.

But putting that aside, at long last summer has arrived with a collection of new songs - most of which are by artists I've never heard of before. Which for me is exceptionally unnerving, because I criticize pop music and I thought I had a pretty good handle on what was becoming popular. And for acts like Nico & Vinz, Rixton, MKTO, and KONGOS to effectively come out of nowhere is more than a little unnerving. It's a troubling sign when I felt relieved I knew who Sam Smith was thanks to his success in the UK - a little less of a relief after I listened through his underwritten bore of an album and couldn't come up with anything noteworthy to say about it, but knowing was half of the battle here.

So when I looked at the charts this week and saw that 'Rude' by Canadian reggae fusion band MAGIC! was at #2, I was a little annoyed, because not only did I barely know who these guys are - and as a Canadian music critic living in Toronto, that's a problem - but that of the Canadian pop rock acts who have come up in the past couple of years, it's these guys who get popular? Not Marianas Trench or Tokyo Police Club or The Brilliancy, but MAGIC!? But when I racked my memory, I did recognize the frontman and songwriter of the band Nasri Atweh - for all of the wrong reasons. Primarily known as a songwriter for Chris Brown, Pitbull, and most for Justin Bieber, my first exposure to him in front of the microphone was on Shakira's self-titled album earlier this year on the song 'Cut Me Deep', where he was promptly blown off the stage, which did not give me a good feeling going into this record. But I figured, 'Hey, it's been a long time since reggae has charted on the Hot 100, so this album could be interesting, right?' So I checked out Don't Kill The MAGIC! - how did it go?

Friday, July 4, 2014

video review: 'paula' by robin thicke

Well, this was exactly as disastrous as everyone predicted. I'm giving him points for trying - not many points, but, you know, points.

Next up... I have no clue. A few ideas, but nothing settled on quite yet. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

album review: 'paula' by robin thicke

It has been quite the year for Robin Thicke.

Around this time in 2013, Robin Thicke released the album Blurred Lines, an album that would catapult him to the top of the charts with its eponymous single and incite angry thinkpieces by music journalists for the rest of the year, especially after the controversy of the VMAs - which, really, since Kanye West hijacked the microphone from Taylor Swift in 2009, was the best thing that could have happened for that exercise in pointlessness in years.

Now lost among the hyperbole and accusations and inveterate trolling were a few things. Most notably, one important question should have been recovered: was the album any good? Well, it was one of the first reviews I ever made and I do stand by it, and I stand by my assertion that the whole 'Blurred Lines' controversy was blown way out of proportion, especially in a year that had songs that also charted that were far, far worse. Did everyone just forget the Rocko, Rick Ross, and Future collaboration that framed date rape as no big deal, or a good chunk of Lil Wayne's output in 2013? I'm not going to reiterate what I've said about 'Blurred Lines' - the review's right here, go check it if you're interested - but speaking as a feminist, I will say this: there's a big difference between being a misogynist and a moron. And ever since the beginning of his career, Thicke falls into the latter category, especially with his lyrics, which frequently fall on the wrong side of the line between 'charming' and 'goofy as hell'. And combined with the fact that he never really seemed to have the charisma or emotional investment in his material of Justin Timberlake or Usher, it's no surprise Thicke got hit by a backlash tsunami, and it also makes sense why he seemed completely clueless as to why. 

But this backlash wasn't the only thing to hit Robin Thicke this year, as his wife Paula Patton also left him for a slew of complicated reasons on which none of the gossip websites I had to visit for researching this review could agree. What did become apparent is that Thicke was nowhere near as 'over' the relationship as Paula, because he chose to release a full album of material named after her in an attempt to win her back. I'll admit, I had a really bad feeling about this record. Like it or not, as much as Thicke might see it as a grand romantic gesture and as much as I might respect the man for showing vulnerability in his subject matter... look, not many R&B acts can do this sort of album well. But I was definitely curious so I gave Paula a couple listens - is it any good?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

video review: 'once more 'round the sun' by mastodon

Finally got a chance to get this out, took entirely too long. Damn solid album, but still took too long.

Okay, next up is Robin Thicke - let's see if this is as much of a disaster as I'm expecting. Stay tuned!

album review: 'once more 'round the sun' by mastodon

Okay, here's a trend among some music fans that really pisses me off: when they say they 'hate' or 'can't stand' or 'won't listen' to an entire genre of music except one or two artists. And believe me, this is a lot more common than you think - how many people have you encountered who say, "Oh, I hate rap, but I listen to Eminem or Drake"? Or "I can't stand country... but you know, Luke Bryan or that band that did that 'Cruise' song, they're alright'? Or "I won't listen to metal... but you know, AC/DC and Metallica are good, I like them."

Now this tends to happen to metal more often than the other way around, mostly because to some extent, metal and harsher music in this vein are still somewhat considered as 'outsider' genres, particularly with the decline of rock radio. Metal doesn't have the vast mainstream culture-defining appeal of hip-hop or EDM or even country - at least right now - and that means the genre tends to get cherry picked by folks who only catch the few metal songs that crossover onto mainstream radio, or some token appreciation for the greats. And in my opinion, it's absolute garbage, mostly because it's a position taken out of ignorance. How the hell do you know you can't stand metal until you hear more than just what might cross over? How do you know you don't like the rest of the big four if you 'only' like Metallica? How do you know you don't like Nightwish or Within Temptation if you 'only' like Evanescence? There are plenty of entry points into the metal genre, and it's infuriating to see the genre marginalized and treated reductively by people who won't go further out of their comfort zone.

So why rant about this at all? Well, for the longest time, the 'beach-head' metal band that got accepted by the indie, Pitchfork-reading crowd was Mastodon - and the more I think about it, the more this band becoming the critically accepted jump-on point makes little sense. Sure, they're critically acclaimed - and they deserve it - but Mastodon land on the border between progressive metal and sludge metal, two genres that aren't exactly easy nuts to crack with time-signature bending melodies, punishingly heavy tones, and complex drum and guitar progressions. And also on that note, Mastodon are goddamn nuts, and I mean that as a high compliment, a band known for free-association lyrics and concept records that are absolutely bonkers by most conventional standards of storytelling. 

And yet that seemed to change a bit with their 2011 album 'The Hunter', their most accessible album to that date... and also their least interesting. I'm not calling the record bad, because there were certainly plenty of moments I really liked, but the choice to opt for a mid-tempo pace, simpler melodies, and much cleaner vocals saw a lot of their songwriting come into sharper view on that record, and, well, it lacked a certain punch for me. What made early Mastodon records so striking was the word choice - it lent the albums a certain primal rage to use such precisely chosen words, and with The Hunter, the shift here just didn't click for me as well. But with interviews suggesting that the new album was going to be circling back to some of their older material with their newest album Once More 'Round The Sun, I was curious to see how the album would turn out. Did Mastodon manage to recapture their former success?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

the top albums/songs of the midyear - 2014

Holy shit, this video took hours. Really happy with it... except for some of the volume levels on the music, but that was such a pain in the ass to get right that I'm fine with where they are.

Next up, Mastodon. Stay tuned!

the top albums/songs of the midyear - 2014

I've been debating with myself pretty consistently over the past few weeks whether or not to make this. It's a pretty common thing with critics to take stock of their favourites at this point of the year, and considering I've covered 108 albums thus far this year, in terms of sheer volume it'd make sense for me to go back and take stock of what I've heard and what deserves consideration going into the second half of the year. And while I'm leery about spoiling my year-end list, long-time fans will probably be able to figure that out anyways, so why not go the extra mile and draw a spotlight to some acts that are definitely worth the consideration. 

So without further ado: