Tuesday, September 30, 2014

video review: 'tomorrow's modern boxes' by thom yorke

Well, Perfume Genius was supposed to be here, but let's just say it hadn't synced properly on my iPod, which meant I needed to take a look at one of the other albums I needed to cover anyways. Can only imagine how contentious this review will be...

Okay, not sure next, because there's a couple country records dropping that I want to space out. Stay tuned!

album review: 'tomorrow's modern boxes' by thom yorke

It's been a really long time since I've talked about Radiohead in any capacity, the critical darling of so many music critics, Starting off in alternative rock in the early 90s, they quickly dove into the off-beat land of chilly electronica on latter albums that would proceed to influence thousands of artists for the next several years... and I'll admit right now that they're one of many bands that I can definitely respect without really liking. 

And most of my frustrations with Radiohead circle back to Thom Yorke. It's been a slow process, but for the most part I've gotten over most of my issues with his vocal delivery, even though I'd never say he's one of my favourite singers. But I've always found him a more interesting singer in alternative rock instead of electronica, which has meant that many of his experiments in that direction have left me a little cold, either with Radiohead, with his side project Atoms For Piece who dropped their debut Amok last year, and on his solo projects. The odd thing is that Yorke is an expressive vocalist and much of his lyrics tend to fall into the same category, but when paired with such stiff, regimented electronics, the contrast can come across as jarring, and not in a good way. And yeah, I get why Thom Yorke does it - as a singer and performer, he's always seemed distinctly uncomfortable in the presence of other human beings and that angst informs a lot of his material - but it has never quite clicked for me.

That being said, I was curious to check out his surprise album Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, released via Bittorrent a few days ago. After all, despite my general antipathy towards Yorke, he is one of the more influential artists in the electronic sides of rock these days, so I downloaded the album and gave it several listens - what did I get?

video review: 'queen of the clouds' by tove lo

So apparently the upload failed in the middle of the night, and I was long asleep. Figures. In any case, it's a pretty solid review, generally happy with this one.

Okay, next up is Perfume Genius, so stay tuned!

Monday, September 29, 2014

video review: 'manipulator' by ty segall

First review of tonight, and it's pretty damn solid, definitely like and recommend it.

Tove Lo review coming momentarily, stay tuned!

album review: 'queen of the clouds' by tove lo

So as the end of the Billboard year approaches in a few months, many music critics, particularly those of us who cover pop music, are starting to formulate their ending pieces for the year - and like always, this involves many of us looking back to put things in the larger context of history. And inevitably this means placing 2014 in comparison to 2013 and asking the question of what changed?

Because really, there was a lot of change. 2012 saw the indie boom and the death of the club boom, but 2013 was a transitional, cacophonous mess, with the exploding swell of bro-country, the retro-disco revival, rap's return to trap music, and mainstream rock doing precisely nothing on the Hot 100 if your band wasn't named Imagine Dragons. But more specifically, 2013 was the year where pop music adopted some element of self-awareness and began actively criticizing itself, and it led to the breakout success of Macklemore and especially Lorde. And while we really haven't seen many repeats of Macklemore's formula - mostly because a white, socially conscious rapper who has no idea how to properly manage his social conscience is a hard thing to replicate - I knew it was only a matter of time before Lorde's self-awareness would bleed over into mainstream pop music.

And sure enough, it happened. 2014 has been a slicker, intentionally more reserved year than 2013, with the mainstream success of neo-soul, folktronica, and the collapse of bro-country. And sure, the success of Ariana Grande, Iggy Azalea, and Taylor Swift meant that straightforward pop wasn't dead, but along the margins you got songs like Sia's 'Chandelier', a song about drinking away one's emptiness that sounded way more desperate than you'd normally hear on the pop charts, a critique of the club boom anthems written from the inside.

Enter Tove Lo, Swedish pop singer-songwriter who has written songs for Icona Pop, Girls Aloud, Cher Lloyd, and Lea Michele before breaking into pop with her own hit 'Habits (Stay High)', an impressively bleak song about Tove Lo self-destructing in drugs, alcohol, and random sexual encounters. And while both 'Habits (Stay High)' and 'Chandelier' play in the same emotional playground of desperate, hyperbolic emptiness, the more personal stakes and greater detail of Tove Lo's song gripped me a fair bit more, and I made sure to pick up her album Queen Of The Clouds, which buzz suggested was fairly ambitious in terms of scope and songwriting. So I gave some attention: what did I find?

album review: 'manipulator' by ty segall

Occasionally you see people working the music industry who generate an insane amount of music. They've got work ethics like none other, they drop albums every year, they write perform and even collaborate and seem to do it all. And it's even rarer to find acts who can maintain some vestige of consistent quality along the way, because let's be honest, if you continue churning out material, eventually you're going to slip up. And for some critics, it becomes something of a waiting game, eager if you're not a fan or nervous if you are. 

And if you're a fan of lo-fi indie garage rock, the name that leaps to the top of your list would be Ty Segall. Originating from San Francisco, he's managed to drop a frankly astounding number of records, collaborations, and projects since 2005 - and the amazing fact is that the majority of the albums are pretty damn solid, be it on his own, with his band, or with Fuzz, Mikal Cronin, and White Fence. And that's not counting the truly excellent records he's released, the most notable being the noisy and aggressive Slaughterhouse with the Ty Segall Band in 2012.

Now in recent years, some of the darker edges of the 60s blues and psychedelic rock have bled into Segall's work, which coalesced most on 2013's Sleeper, a more acoustic leaning album that showed consistency but didn't always click for me. That's more because the quieter focus meant more emphasis on the lyrics, which have probably been my one big hangup with Ty Segall. Now he's not a bad lyricist, per se, but a lot of his songwriting has fallen into his brand of simple and aggressive self-deprecation that can lack nuance. And that can work when you're playing fuzz-saturated raucous guitars and howling into the microphone - not everyone is trying to be Perfect Pussy, after all - but a more acoustic ambiance naturally draws more focus to the songwriting.

That said, Ty Segall's music has steadily been becoming more polished with every release, and with early reviews suggesting his new album Manipulator was his most lush, expansive, and long to date, I wasn't sure what to expect. So what did I get?

Friday, September 26, 2014

video review: 'pale communion' by opeth

Finally, took way too long to get to this album, but I'm happy I got to it. 

In any case, next up will either be Ty Segall or one of the many records dropping next week - it's going to be crazy. Stay tuned!

album review: 'pale communion' by opeth

There are certain metal and rock bands that are tricky to talk about - and you wouldn't think, upon first glimpse, that Opeth would fall under that banner. Beginning with some well-received records in the 90s, they eventually would explode with a blend of progressive death and black metal in the late 90s and early 2000s with some of the most critically well-received metal records of the time. Hell, I'd probably go on record as saying their 1999 release Still Life is their most full-formed, cohesive, memorable, and well-written release, even more than the critically beloved Blackwater Park or the twin releases of Damnation and Deliverance, and in my opinion an all-time favourite and one of the best albums of the 90s, hands down.

But it was around that time, and especially across their following albums, that another figure comes to the spotlight: producer, singer-songwriter, and frontman of progressive rock act Porcupine Tree Steven Wilson. Now I've gone on record calling Steven Wilson the 'prog metal Kanye West', and with Opeth he found his Jay-Z - because like it or not, Opeth's work became distinctly coloured by tones that are instantly recognizable as Wilson's, which shows an impressive distinctive sound and incredible skill as a producer. Even on the albums he did not produce for the band, his influence was definitely apparent, and as the 2000s wore on, Opeth began slowly moving away from the death and black metal of their roots and towards the more progressive side. Which wasn't a problem for me - I love prog rock and metal, both on the aggressively visceral side of Mastodon and the methodical brilliance of Dream Theater - but at the same time, Opeth was one of the bands that maintained a stellar, textured balance between textured death and black metal and their more folk-inspired progressive side, to the point where I'd actually recommend Opeth as a good gateway from progressive metal into more extreme genres. And as much as I like prog rock, I'd admit to being a little disappointed to seeing that balance drop away.

In any case, after the excellent Ghost Reveries and the shakier but still good Watershed, Opeth ditched death and black metal altogether for 2011's Heritage... and it was pretty good, but not exactly great. Missing the loud-soft contrast between the heavier metal segments and the progressive rock left the album feeling a little lightweight and strangely empty, the latter being an issue with the mixing courtesy of Steven Wilson - and while I appreciate his commitment to dynamics, it probably wasn't the smartest decision to say the album was the first part of a trilogy encompassing his solo album Grace For Drowning and the self-titled Storm Corrosion debut album - I know you've collaborated with Opeth for years, but presumptuous much? The larger issue was that many of the songs felt spacious but lacking instrumentally and lyrically outside of the killer track 'Folklore'.

In other words, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect with Opeth's newest album Pale Communion, but I steeled myself for the worst and gave it many listens. And now, a month late, how's the album?

video review: 'little machines' by lights

Man, I wish this record was better. I do like Lights, but this album didn't really stand out.

Okay, next up is (finally) Opeth. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

album review: 'little machines' by lights

The more I think about it, the more I'm surprised I didn't really get into Lights when I was at university.

I mean, at first glimpse she was the sort of act I'd typically like. Indie pop with a focus on melody, Lights sparked a lot of early comparisons with Owl City with the release of her first album The Listening in 2009, mostly for her keyboard-driven catchiness, her usage of autotune to augment the synthetic sound, her occasional song related to faith, and her lyrics that toed the line between twee and outright adolescent. In fact, it was probably that last part that kept me keeping some amount of distance - her voice had more presence and power than Owl City's, but her lyrics never quite approached the same level of cleverness that occasionally saved Owl City. And to go by that first album, it'd be very easy - and somewhat unfair - to throw the Manic Pixie Dream Girl label on Lights - emphasis on 'girl' because with songs like 'Pretend' there was a certain 'regression to childhood' tendency that had some nuance but rubbed me the wrong way, even if the ultimate message of her album did imply maturity was the natural end goal.

Well, apparently Lights wasn't a fan of those particular comparisons, because most of the cutesy image went out the window for her sophomore release Siberia, at least in terms of her instrumentation. The soft, fluttering keyboards and effects were jettisoned in favour of heavy, icy dubstep-inspired synthpop, which gave the album a darker, grittier feel - and yet for some reason, it didn't really carry over into the lyrics or Lights' presentation. If anything, despite Lights' admittedly solid grasp of interesting poetry, the subject matter felt a little more mundane and pop-friendly, lacking some of the nuance that had characterized her previous work. On top of that, Siberia has not exactly aged well - while it might have preceded the dubstep-flavour that would come into prominence in 2012, it feels very much of its time in terms of mix balance and production, and as someone who has never really been a fan of the upper-to-midrange pop brand of dubstep, it didn't always work for me.

So I have to be honest, I had no idea what to expect with Lights' newest album 'Little Machines', but I was definitely curious to find out, in addition to supporting another promising and interesting Canadian artist. So I checked out the album: what did I get?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

video review: 'the big revival' by kenny chesney

Well, this gave me way more to talk about than I was expecting. Good to see that happening, even though, like with Tim McGraw, I don't expect this to get a lot of traffic.

Okay, next up will probably be Lights, but it could be Opeth or Ty Segall either, so stay tuned!

album review: 'the big revival' by kenny chesney

Okay, if you've been listening to country music beyond just the past year or two, you've probably noticed that certain acts tend to take their party/relaxation songs to the beach or the Caribbean. It's lightweight, it's generally harmless, and occasionally it can be a fair amount of fun if you get acts like The Zac Brown Band or Jake Owen. Then again, both of these acts realize it isn't exactly a good thing to spend too much time at the beach, which is why Jake Owen's most recent single is an acoustic ballad and the Zac Brown Band are recording with Dave Grohl.

But you occasionally run into acts in country music that don't ever seem to leave the beach, and undoubtedly the most popular of these acts is Kenny Chesney. He may have started out in neotraditional country back the 90s, but in the very early 2000s he found a niche in lightweight country that seemed destined for all-inclusive resorts and cruise lines. And to his credit, it was a niche that fit him well, and he and his arsenal of cowriters produced a fair number of pretty good songs.

But as the decade wore on, astute listeners came to realize the beach for Kenny Chesney became less of a lane and more of a crutch, especially as he pumped out album after album of material that all sounded pretty similar. Sure, he'd occasionally drop an interesting collaboration or strike a more melancholy pose, but in the fourteen album released across his career, about eight or nine of them were firmly lodged in the beach. Kenny Chesney so thoroughly dropped himself into the Jimmy Buffett mold that there were many accusation of ripping Buffett off, but I'd argue that's not quite fair. As much as Jimmy Buffett has written some asinine songs, he wasn't afraid to be loose and silly and weird, and occasionally he did write some stellar songs. Kenny Chesney to me has always seemed like more of a workman with a little more dignity - he'll put out accessible, solid enough albums with plenty of songs that miss the point of 'Margaritaville', but he's never going to write 'A Pirate Looks At Forty' or a 'Cheeseburger In Paradise', and that means I've never really been that interested in him.

That said, Kenny Chesney's newest single 'American Kids' did seem like a bit of a departure for the guy and while he only has four writing credits on this album, he is working with some of the better songwriters in Nashville right now, so I figured what the hell and gave 'The Big Revival' a chance - what did I find?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

video review: 'sundown heaven town' by tim mcgraw

I honestly don't expect this review to get a tremendous amount of traffic... but then again, you never know, and I wanted to say my piece on Tim McGraw anyways.

Okay, next up... you know, I think I'm about ready to talk about Opeth, but I might need something in the middle first... okay, stay tuned!

album review: 'sundown heaven town' by tim mcgraw

It's hard, as a critic, to talk about some acts with which you grew up. These are bands that are lodged in your formative psyche and though you might not have heard the songs for years, you still remember every line as if it was yesterday. Despite the fact I have not listened through a Shania Twain or Garth Brooks or Alabama or Sammy Kershaw album in years, I can still remember the songs whenever they inevitably come up at karaoke... well, okay, it's mostly the Shania Twain tracks because of every girls night out party ever, but the point is that I find Come On Over a hard record to judge because I grew up with it and she dropped twelve goddamn singles thanks to songwriter and future Nickelback producer Mutt Lange.

And this is something of a similar issue with Tim McGraw, one of the most popular and successful country acts of all time thanks to a quiet, sensitive middlebrow sensibility and a knack for hiring good songwriters. Unlike contemporaries Alan Jackson and George Strait, Tim McGraw has been using the Nashville songwriting machine for decades now to make material I like to describe as an auditory Xanax, especially around the time of his long-lasting marriage to Faith Hill in the late 90s. The funny thing is that Tim McGraw was a good enough performer with a strong sense of populism, so while he barely wrote any of his albums, they still managed to produce pretty damn solid singles that stuck in the memory.

But in recent years, Tim McGraw has been in a bit of a complicated situation behind the scenes, and it's shown through in his music as he's struggled to keep up with the times. The larger issue was with his label Curb Records, which milked his name into the ground through a pile of increasingly redundant greatest hits albums that traded off his late 90s success. Eventually he was able to claw his way out of his contract and move to Big Machine with Taylor Swift, but the artistic flailing on that record was noticeable. And sure, 'Highway Don't Care' was okay, but 'Truck Yeah' was easily the stupidest song he had ever released, leaving that 2013 record a bit of a mixed bag. And off of the opening single 'Lookin' For That Girl', which featured some of the most egregious Autotune I'd ever heard in country song, I was pretty concerned. That said, he did manage to return to his comfort zone of middlebrow tracks with 'Meanwhile Back At Mama's', a duet with his wife that was pretty good but not exactly inspiring considering Miranda Lambert made 'Automatic' this year, so I didn't have any idea what to expect. But I figured, 'Hey, it's Tim McGraw, and at the very least my mom would appreciate me doing this review, and I need to improve my YouTube demographics testing', so I gave Sundown Heaven Town a couple listens - what did I get?

Monday, September 22, 2014

video review: 'songs of innocence' by u2

I went into this hoping this was going to be good or that U2 was actually going back to their roots. Wishful thinking, I know, but man, still a disappointment.

Okay, I need to talk about some country and clear my head, so probably Tim McGraw next. Stay tuned!

album review: 'songs of innocence' by u2

On September 9th of this year, Apple unveiled its newest tech lineup, which included the newest iterations of the iPhone and the Apple Watch, the latest tech gimmick to try to replace the common wristwatch and will likely fall into the same fate unless Apple fetishists embrace it. But that wasn't the only thing revealed at that press conference - because rock band U2 announced that their newest album Songs Of Innocence would be arriving in your iTunes that very day for free should you choose to pull it off the iCloud.

And consumers revolted. Suddenly the big story was the backlash leveled against U2 for not only allying with Apple - which they've done extensively in the past - but that U2 had suddenly injected their newest album into everyone's iTunes library whether they wanted it or not. And the response was emphatic: people did not want this album, to the point where Apple released a tool specifically designed for iTunes users to get rid of the album instead of just waiting for the iCloud download window to expire. And honestly, I was a little shocked by this reaction - I mean, it's free music from one of the biggest rock bands on earth who hadn't dropped an album in five years, why the backlash?

Well, I suspect part of it is that people tend to be protective of what they put in their iTunes libraries, but the larger truth is that many people tend to have complicated feelings regarding U2. They started as one of the most potent and explosive mainstream rock acts of the 80s, known for earnest, explosive power, sweeping scope, and socially-minded lyrics... until Rattle & Hum exposed the mind-boggling pretentiousness and swaggering rock arrogance beneath it that made the band come across as more than a little preachy. Without warning, the band pulled a 180 and went straight for the self-aware shields of irony with Achtung Baby, throwing earnestness aside for a highly artificial image of cool that paid diminishing returns as the 90s wore on and U2 drifted more towards electronic music. This experimentation eventually ended in the flashy and intentionally empty-feeling record Pop, the mixed reception of which pushed U2 back towards the earnest, politically-minded anthems that made their fortune in the 80s. Unfortunately, the shift took a while to stick, mostly because the instrumentation lacked visceral punch and Bono's lyrics had taken a turn for the self-indulgent. And while they would fix some of the former - it was plainly apparent U2 was never going back towards the explosive power of War any time soon, which would probably be my favourite U2 album after The Joshua Tree - the lyrics remained spotty across 2004's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and 2009's even more scattershot No Line On The Horizon. And considering the opening buzz for this album was that it was going to be produced by Ryan Tedder, Paul Epworth, and Brian Burton aka Danger Mouse, the last whose work has taken something of a downturn this year on the new albums from Broken Bells and The Black Keys, I wasn't really looking forward to this album. But hey, it's U2, one of the greatest rock acts of all time, surely they could pull something together, right?

Friday, September 19, 2014

video review: 'jealous gods' by poets of the fall

Dear god, this album kicked all amounts of ass. Epic and yet accessible and somehow making it all work, it's easily one of the best of the year. GO GET IT ALREADY.

Okay, next up - finally - is U2. Stay tuned!

album review: 'jealous gods' by poets of the fall

There are some bands that when you look through their discography or their charting singles, you wonder why on God's green earth they became famous. Because even bucking the trends of the time, even without a catchy or interesting song or even good song to their name, there are acts that will somehow rise to the top of the charts. And then five years later people will look back on that time and wonder why the hell these guys became popular.

And then there's the opposite case. A musical act that for all intents and purposes should have been huge - maybe the trends were on their side, maybe they had infinitely catchy hooks, maybe they just made awesome music - and yet for no discernible reason, they never blew up in the mainstream the way they should. And we're going to be talking about one of those bands today, the Finnish alternative rock act Poets of the Fall. These guys released their first album Signs of Life in 2005 and ever since then have been releasing record after record of quality music that pretty much encapsulated everything I liked about alternative rock and metal. They had a great melodic focus and the instrumental heft to back it up, they wrote fantastic, hook-driven songs with introspective and emotionally compelling lyrics, and lead vocalist Marko Saaresto had one of the most compelling and expressive voices in the genre, a rich liquid baritone capable both of grit and melody.

So why didn't Poets of the Fall become huge in the US? Well, I've got a few ideas, the first being that the band opted for a more sophisticated and melodic presence when alt rock and metal of the time was going in the exact opposite direction. And with the decline of mainstream rock radio, I'm not surprised that Poets Of The Fall never blew up beyond their home country. The other thing - and this is coming from a fan of the band that thinks they've never really made a bad album - is that Poets Of The Fall didn't really make consistent albums. Their early output, especially their third album Revolution Roulette, was pretty uneven as the band worked to strike a balance between gorgeous melodic ballads and their more hard-edged material. 

But in 2012, the band seemed to finally hit that sweet spot with Temple of Thought, a strikingly potent release that fused their melodic focus with sweeping heaviness that made the album one of the best of the year. So you can bet I was hotly anticipating their newest record Jealous Gods - so how is it?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

video review: 'the union' by the glorious sons

Finally got around to talking about these guys, and man, it was worth it. Solid, thought-provoking record, definitely worth a look.

And coming up... one of my most hotly anticipated albums of the year. No, not that one. And not the U2 record either (though that review is coming soon). Stay tuned to find out!

album review: 'the union' by the glorious sons

So let's return to the Canadian music scene for a bit. Now as I've mentioned in the past, I now live in Toronto which is one of the major hubs of indie rock in Canada, mostly thanks to a thriving alternative community and multiple universities near the downtown core. And what's even better is that said indie rock scene and those who get invested in it tend to have a fairly tight-knit community, to the point where if you know the right people, buzz tends to circulate pretty quickly. It also means that buzz tends to die fairly quickly if the word doesn't get out, which can be the death knell of indie acts.

So when I start getting requests for Canadian bands not just from you guys, but from friends who are actively involved in the indie music community, it means one of two things: it means that buzz has reached some form of critical mass and we're looking at a possible radio or even mainstream breakthrough; or I've got something really special on my hands. And when requests starting coming in for the debut album of The Glorious Sons, after a very well-received EP Shapeless Art last year that was described as blending the sounds of 90s hook-driven alt rock and pub-friendly indie rock, it definitely caught my interest. So I made sure to pick up their debut album The Union when it dropped and gave it plenty of listens: how is it?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

video review: 'the water[s]' by mick jenkins

Well, okay, I planned to cover The Glorious Sons today, but things don't always work out as planned and I've wanted to talk about Mick Jenkins for a while now. In any case, great mixtape, definitely worth everyone's time and definitely looking forward to seeing whatever else this guy drops.

Okay, next up is The Glorious Sons, so stay tuned!

album review: 'the water[s]' by mick jenkins

Let's talk a bit about concept albums. They've got a bit of a complicated reputation among critics, with some considering them high points of an artist's creative ambition and skill, and others calling them moments of excruciating hubris that show artists disappearing up their own ass. And let's make this clear, there are cases where both of these are true, but for the most part I tend to like concept albums, if only because they show an artist taking an ambitious risk and not just resorting to the default subject matter.

So let's go further and talk about concept albums in hip-hop, and when I say that, I'm not referring to albums that opt to have a narrative or a story or a subtle underlying theme. I'm talking about records that are focused on a single concept, usually abstract that the rapper then proceeds to explore in detail throughout an entire record. When you take a look from that perspective, the number of concept albums dwindles down to a precious few, appreciated by critics or hardcore hip-hop nerds but few else.

But as experimental hip-hop continues to grow and become more accepted, I knew it was only a matter of time before concept records in hip-hop returned. Enter Mick Jenkins, a Chicago MC who released his first mixtape with Trees and Truths last year that got a fair bit of critical scrutiny. Not only did he display a good flow and real wordplay, he also had interestingly textured production and some intriguing deeper themes in his work. Now I didn't quite love Trees & Truths - it felt a little long, the biblical elements felt a little shaky, and the ubiquitous pitch shifting got exasperating, but it was enough to pique my interest when he dropped his second mixtape The Water[s] this year. Now let me stress that I don't normally cover mixtapes, but considering the absurd critical acclaim this tape has gotten and the assertions that it comes together as more of a fully formed concept album than most, I figured I might as well try something new. So I gave The Water[s] a listen - what did I find?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

video review: 'el pintor' by interpol

Pretty pleased with this review, all things considered, because this album was a tough nut to crack. Hopefully it'll deflect attention from the Team Breezy attempted circlejerk going on in the last review, but I doubt it.

Okay, next up I want to talk about The Glorious Sons, but Tim McGraw and Poets of the Fall aren't far down the line, so stay tuned!

album review: 'el pintor' by interpol

It's a well-known fact that at the beginning of the 2000s, we saw a wave of shockingly good, career-defining records from the indie scene that didn't just define the possibility of a garage rock revival, but the shape of indie rock going forward. Bands like The Strokes, The Vines, The Hives, and The White Stripes were the first, but bands like The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, The Arctic Monkeys, and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs weren't far from the punch. But the truly alarming thing was that many of these bands would fail to carry forward their success throughout the rest of the decade, either flaming out, breaking up, or delivering significantly mixed results throughout the next ten years, or at the very least cursed with constant comparisons to their early days that they'd never be able to live down.

And one of the most notable of those bands was Interpol, a New York based indie rock band that exploded into the indie scene with the critically beloved Turn On The Bright Lights and Antics, two records filled with memorably chunky riffs, tight bass work, and great drumming. And yet a shift to a major label brought their 2007 record Our Love To Admire that saw the bass shoved back to a mix that had aspirations to grandness that the band couldn't back up instrumentally and certainly not lyrically. Interpol had always been a band caught between the grand earnest insecurities of teenage dreams and being smart enough to know better, but Our Love To Admire saw them trying on more of an assertive rock star persona and man, did it fit uncomfortably. They left that label for their self-titled fourth album in 2010, and while it did work a little better, it was also a sign that the darkness, rock star gravitas and internal frustrations had taken its toll on the band. Interpol had tackled dark material before, but this was the first time the music had mirrored the subject matter and while it felt cohesive, it was not an album most fans were eager to revisit.

So with the departure of their bassist Carlos Dengler, Interpol managed to pull things together for their fifth album El Pintor, an anagram for the band's name and Spanish for 'the painter'. So, what did the album deliver?

Monday, September 15, 2014

video review: 'x' by chris brown

My least anticipated album of the year... and it arguably turned out to be pretty mediocre and actually a step above the true atrocities Chris Brown has dropped. Go figure.

Okay, Interpol next. Stay tuned!

album review: 'x' by chris brown

One of the hardest thing for any critic to do is to separate one's feelings regarding the artist from the art itself. It's something that can be anathema to some people, because to them the artist's presence is so intertwined with what the art is that they can't see the separation, and thus they perceive any attack on the art as an attack on the artist, an attack that is often undeserved or might be considered unfair.

That's not quite the case here - because Chris Brown's music is easily the least interesting and least hateable element of his persona. It's not worth my time to go through the banner list of all the terrible things this guy has said and done over the past five years, as well as the fact that he's clearly learned nothing from it thanks to a total lack of accountability, but all of that can distract many critics from judging the art fairly instead of judging the artist. And it gets even harder when it becomes plainly apparent the artist's life and experience has influenced his songwriting, so where does one draw the line?

Well, here's my policy: it becomes important to understand why certain songwriting choices were made, but ultimately the art has to stand on its own regardless of the artist's life/experiences. And on that note, Chris Brown has made some of the worst music of the past five years. And when I say 'worst', I mean that Graffiti and Fortune were some of the worst albums of their respective years and deserve nothing more than scorn and derision because they are absolute torture to listen through. Even Forgiving All My Enemies had its fair share of turds like 'Deuces' and 'Look At Me Now' and 'She Ain't You' interspersed between the upbeat dance tracks that were the saving grace of that record. 

And thus I've had a certain amount of morbid curiosity in looking up X, the long-delayed record from Chris Brown that promised to go more towards R&B than dance pop - which made sense, given the changing trends on the charts, but every single one of the singles was giving me a really bad feeling about this record. But I figured I'd try to be fair and give Chris Brown the chance he heartily does not deserve and I listened to this record: how is it?

video review: 'bulletproof picasso' by train

So this happened. Overall, a fundamentally broken album, but still entertaining to talk about. Be sure to check out Mark's work over at Spin It! Reviews, he's got some solid material over there.

Okay, Chris Brown, you finally got around to releasing X, hit me!

Wait, bad choice of words -

Saturday, September 13, 2014

video review: 'preparanoia' by lmno

Wished it was a little better, but overall a good record from a rapper I really do respect. Check it out.

Okay, tomorrow we could have a pretty interesting surprise - either that or Interpol, so stay tuned!

album review: 'preparanoia' by lmno

So last year, I received a request to review a hip-hop album from a rapper I had never heard of before, and yet managed to turn out as one of my favourite albums of last year thanks to great, well-structured bars and phenomenal production from a guest producer who I've already covered twice this year. That producer was Evidence, and the album was called After The Fact, by the prolific, highly skilled, and impressively monotone MC LMNO. 

And over the past year, I've begun to see more and more why LMNO has managed to carve out his niche defiantly outside of mainstream rap: not only does he produce new material at an impressive rate - not counting 2010, where he released ten albums worth of material in one year - but his delivery was icy, crisp, multisyllabic, and near devoid of inflection or drama. He was the sort of rapper who could deliver bars until the end of time, although his flat brand of intensity could prove to be a little difficult to tolerate.

Yet even with that, I really did respect his wordplay and creativity, and while it was a little disheartening to see him part ways with Evidence for his newest album Preparanoia, I still took the time to check it out regardless. What did I get?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

video review: 'where it's at' by dustin lynch

Well, that was a surprising listen. Still wouldn't consider it great, but it definitely caught me off-guard and I do appreciate that.

So okay, still got a bunch more albums to listen through before I'm ready to talk about Opeth or U2. In other words, I'll either be finally talking about Mick Jenkins or Lee Brice, so stay tuned!

album review: 'where it's at' by dustin lynch

So let's talk a bit about labels in country music. Like in any other genre, you've got your big labels and your independents, but unlike other genres, you don't really have one independent label that has accumulated tons of critical acclaim or real powerhouse artists under their banner. In other words, country doesn't seem to have a label like alt and indie rock's Sub Pop, or rap's TDE, or pop rock's Fueled by Ramen. 

But that's not saying some indie labels don't have power in mainstream country - far from it, which takes us to Broken Bow Records. Founded in 1999, it has grown most prominent in recent years for signing Jason Aldean, Thompson Square, Craig Morgan, and the artists we're going to be talking about today, Dustin Lynch. Now Lynch comes as a bit of an odd arrival to mainstream country music, in that he released his debut in 2012 just before the bro-country wave took over and subsequently collapsed. If anything he seemed to be looking more for the neotraditional smooth adult country where you'd usually find Chris Young or Blake Shelton, especially off of his highest charting single from that album 'Cowboys and Angels', a pretty solid song that had a bit of lyrical clumsiness but made up for it with great guitar tones and instrumentation all around. It was enough to get me curious about his follow-up album Where It's At, which was set to be released this year albeit with a much less impressive lead-off single. What did concern me was that his number of writing credits had fallen off significantly, from well over half of his self-titled debut down to just a third of this record. But then again, he was working with established country songwriters, which could mean good things, including with longtime Dierks Bentley collaborator Brett Beavers. So I gave it a look - what did I get?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

video review: 'souled out' by jhené aiko

Holy shit, I did not see this coming. Seriously, you all need to get this record, it's fantastic and will likely land on my list of one of the best albums of the year, bar none.

Okay, next up... I think it's time for a bit of country, wouldn't you say?

album review: 'souled out' by jhené aiko

So in case you haven't noticed, the biggest new wave in pop music seems to have finally materialized... and it's R&B and soul.

Now this sort of thing comes in cycles, usually on the opposite side of when pop music goes for shiny, electro dance pop, but when you think about it, R&B hasn't exactly been dominant in mainstream music in quite some time, not really since the early-to-mid-2000s. I mean, of course there was always Beyoncé, but she's a force in and of herself. This sort of evolution is broader, and like most musical waves, it was driven by the rise of the glitchy, off-beat, minimalist indie R&B that would come to win tides of critical acclaim at the beginning of the decade. And now that it's finally reached the mainstream, we're getting all sorts of new R&B acts cropping up.

Jhené Aiko isn't quite one of those 'new' acts, in that she's actually been involved in the music industry for over ten years and got her first steps in the door thanks to family connections to B2K. She could have started her career right then, but label tensions, pregancy and a desire to continue her education caused her to take a long hiatus from recording. She eventually returned in 2011 with a well-received mixtape and EP, and even a few legit charting hits that I wouldn't quite say were stellar, but weren't bad either. They showed that Jhené Aiko did have an impressive amount of charisma and vocal presence, and enough wit in her lyrics to back it up, so provided the production was on point - which is often was, thanks to collaborating producers Fisticuffs and No I.D. - I mostly liked her material. That being said, I was skeptical going into this new album Souled Out, mostly because Jhené was saying it was going to be a concept record, and those sorts of ambitious projects right out of the gate can misfire if not directed carefully. So what did I find here?

video review: 'goddess' by banks

Wow, not impressed with this album at all. Okay, maybe a little, but it did very little for me as a whole.

Okay, my schedule has gotten a lot more full... and then U2 decided, 'Hey, let's collaborate with Apple and release a free album out of fucking nowhere!' Well, U2, you've got to wait. In other words, next up is Jhene Aiko, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

album review: 'goddess' by banks

So over a month ago when I reviewed the debut album from UK girl group Neon Jungle, there was one song in particular that stood out in terms of its production and placement on this album: an eerie, reverb-punctuated song called 'Waiting Game' that had well-framed lyrics and context that could back up the heady drama of the track. It was an interesting shift for Neon Jungle, and I liked the song's inclusion... but it wasn't long before everyone informed me that I couldn't really give full credit to that band.

No, more credit belonged to Jillian Banks, often going by her surname as her stagename and who was the American R&B singer-songwriter who originally wrote and performed that song. So I checked out that version and honestly it might be even better, concentrating the emotion on one performer and heightening that sense of intimacy across the track. So you can bet I was curious to check out that debut album when it dropped, a composite record composed of tracks from her first two EPs and new material. Which... okay, not exactly a good sign in terms of album cohesion, but surely the album would come together somewhat, right?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

video review: 'v' by maroon 5

Okay, glad that's out of my system.

Next up... well, we'll see here. I've got a few rap projects I want to talk about before Interpol or Opeth, so stay tuned!

album review: 'v' by maroon 5

I'm amazed this album exists.

Because if you had told me a decade ago that one of the few pop rock acts still charting singles highly on the Billboard Hot 100 would be Maroon 5, I probably would have laughed in your face. And it wasn't as if they were originally a bad band: their brand of funk was aggressively stiff but they could write some impressively catchy songs. I might not have been the biggest fan of Adam Levine's vocal delivery as he occasionally came across as more obnoxious and smarmy than he could really back up, but his voice was unique and he did have some versatility as a performer. And as much as many of Maroon 5's relationship songs screamed of douchebaggery and framing that was nowhere near self-aware enough to pull it off, they occasionally brought some swagger or even real sincerity to anchor their better material. 

But as the 2000s became the 2010s, it became clear that Maroon 5 was becoming less of a rock band in any capacity and more of a vehicle for Adam Levine's solo career, one that was supported by an arsenal of professional songwriters. In other words, they sold out, which honestly wouldn't have been a problem for a pop act if the music had stayed strong or at least maintained some vestige of individuality. And that really didn't happen, culminating in the album Overexposed in 2012, a record that has only gotten worse every time I listen to it. It was a record that somehow stripped away even more of Maroon 5's unique sound with even worse lyrics. It was a sour, bitter, unpleasant listen with the exception of the gentle and heartfelt piano ballad 'Sad', and it left me with little hope the band would ever recover any artistic integrity, especially considering the record sold shockingly well, so why would they have any reason to try?

And even with the return of keyboardist Jesse Carmichael from hiatus, I didn't have high hopes at all for their new album V, and I was not looking forward to covering this album. But then again, this meant Maroon 5 had nowhere to go but up, at least in my books, so I gave the album a chance: how did it go?