Wednesday, September 30, 2015

video review: 'every open eye' by CHVRCHES

Wow, this was a ton of fun. Definitely recommending this, just so much energy and heart to this record, so easy to like!

Next up... see, I'm considering Silversun Pickups, but that album is driving off the wall... so I think I'll do Kurt Vile instead. Stay tuned!

album review: 'every open eye' by CHVRCHES

For me, this is one of the big ones.

See, I didn't expect much when I first planned to cover the debut album from Chvrches back in 2013. I had heard the gleaming, early-80s synthpop with gleaming high synths against spiky drum machines and distorted beats that seemed to careen off of modern indie pop on the strident vocals of Lauren Mayberry and while I suspected I'd like it, I didn't know how much. And yet at the end of 2013, The Bones of What You Believe landed on my year-end list, mostly buoyed by surprisingly tight songwriting and thematic cohesion.

Fast forward to now and the highly anticipated sophomore follow-up to that synthpop heavy-hitter... but let's be honest here, Chvrches is stepping onto a different playing field. While there were a fair share of releases inspired by 80s synthpop that dropped in 2013, the past year has given us a huge cross-section of synthesizer-driven indie pop, and with the success of Taylor Swift's 1989 and 'Shut Up And Dance' by Walk The Moon, you could argue it's gone outright mainstream. And that's before we even take into account the indie scene, where acts like Lower Dens and The Wombats have released some of the strongest records of the year and others like Metric or even Carly Rae Jepsen aren't far behind. And sure, Chvrches being great songwriters gave them an advantage, but I was curious to see how they could push their sound in a fresh direction that'd enable them to stand out, especially after a few years of intense touring. Did they pull it off on Every Open Eye?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 10, 2015 (VIDEO)

So this should have gone up last night, but apparently my upload freezes when the file is grotesquely massive or when my computer goes to sleep. Go figure.

Next up on a far lighter note, CHVRCHES! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 10, 2015

For all of you who wanted me to cover Drake & Future's surprise collaboration release, you're going to get your wish - because it effectively crushed everything in its path and for I think is the third time this year, turned the Hot 100 into the Drake show. And please tell me that I'm not the only one who's starting to get a little sick of it at this point. Coupled with my suspicions that Views From The 6 will probably still end up dropping this year - and the fact that Drake was responsible for cosigning The Weeknd and helping him become huge - the hip-hop story has been dominated by Drake this year, and yet he got there by making some of the least interesting music of his entire career. And given the somewhat mixed critical response I've seen for What A Time To Be Alive, I'm suspecting we're going to hit the backlash zone any time now, because Drake is reaching dangerous points of overexposure. But apparently the mainstream public disagrees, because we had seventeen new songs this week and nearly half of them had Drake on them.

video review: 'deeply rooted' by scarface

And that knocks my two biggest discographies to retrace off my list. Whew, maybe the next few weeks will be a little lighter... although judging by the release schedule, that seems like a fool's hope.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN - stay tuned!

Monday, September 28, 2015

album review: 'deeply rooted' by scarface

I've said before it's hard to talk about legends, artists with careers that span decades and have made history in their respective genres. But you know when it becomes the hardest? I'll tell you - when you invest the hours of work to go through an entire lengthy discography of one of these legends... and realize most of it wasn't all that great.

And yeah, I'm talking about Scarface, member of the Geto Boys and legend of Houston hip-hop. On his own, the man has put out around a dozen albums of material and I went through every single one of them, including the double albums. And when I started, I was excited - Scarface throughout the first half of the 90s may not have seemed to do much outside of the gangsta rap formula, but he brought personality, strong wordplay, and a selection of pretty damn solid old school funk and soul to his beats, and I'll still hold that his album The Diary is damn close to a classic, taking the depression that has crept through all of his work to underscore his bleak insight. But going beyond that, there's a gap of about ten years where the albums were mixed to say the least. Quite frankly, there's only so many places Scarface could take his brand of gangsta rap, and it got repetitive in a hurry. Coupled with an influx of weaker guest stars and production that could be hit-and-miss, and you're left with a lot of filler, enough so that I understand why despite his longevity and his presence in the underground as a figure of southern hip-hop, his name doesn't always come up. Really, consistent quality only began to return by records like Made or Emeritus- after the latter of which Scarface announced that he was retiring. And really, I was okay with this- go out on a high note, nothing wrong with that.

And that's why the announcement of a new record threw me off-guard, and you have to wonder what it was that pulled Scarface out of a solid eight years of retirement that was only really split by a mixtape in 2010, one of the closest things to a significant departure in from hip-hop that wasn't caused by prison or drug addiction or death. But to be fair, the guest verses I've heard from Scarface over the past decade have been solid, especially when he worked with Freddie Gibbs on Pinata, so did Scarface come back with something worth caring about?

video review: 'poison season' by destroyer

And about time I could get this done! Fantastic record, so highly recommended!

Next up, the next of my extremely deep backlog before the tidal wave of CHVRCHES, Kurt Vile, Julia Holter, Silversun Pickups, The Underachievers, and so many more! Stay tuned!

album review: 'poison season' by destroyer

Let's talk a little about lyrics. I've often been told that in comparison with most music critics, I pay much more attention to the writing than the sound of the album itself, and in a few conversations with other critics, I've come to realize that I might be the exception than the rule with that approach. Where the conversation gets interesting is when it comes to the mainstream public, because where I'm fairly certain I care about the writing more than some critics, I know for certain I care more than most audiences, and even then it breaks down by genre how much one might care - lyrics matter more in folk and country and arguably most of hip-hop than they do in, say, electronica. Now I could argue that I care more about lyrics because I'm a writer myself and I love to decode poetry good and bad alike, but I reckon even in the cases where they're easy to ignore good writing plays a purpose. It's the primary method for the songwriter to convey their art's story or meaning to the audience, with the sonic palette around them being what sets the mood and atmosphere. For me, writing and instrumentation need to have a certain amount of balance when I consider an entire piece, with strengths and weaknesses in both being enough to save or sink an album.

That's why, believe it or not, when I hear about records that are highly touted for their lyrics above all else and aren't hip-hop albums, I'm intrigued but cautious. Sure, I'm predicated to like this sort of thing more, but that means as a critic I have to make sure I'm not giving undue praise when it's not earned. Thankfully, today we're talking about Destroyer, the project of Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Bejar and an artist whose lyrical eccentricities often are matched by eclectic and interesting instrumentation that at its worst can feel sloppy or indulgent but at best can be genuinely breathtaking in beauty and melodic composition. Affiliated with critically acclaimed indie rock group The New Pornographers, who really have a disturbingly high record of producing great side projects from their members, the most striking thing about Destroyer is the choice to switch up musical sounds with nearly every album. From the tight cohesion that defined the excellent Streethawk and Thief to the meandering and yet compelling mess of This Night to the synth-touched and goddamn spectacular Your Blues to the drunken cacophony of Trouble In Dreams. Now since his 2011 album Kaputt - which I thought had some great writing and some gorgeous melodies but could meander a little in late-80s easy listening territory, Dan Bejar has been taken longer and longer between releases, and now he's finally got a new album: Poison Season. And with it came the explosion of critical acclaim: was the album actually worthy of it?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

video review: 'fetty wap' by fetty wap

Oh, I bet there was a whole load of people who probably expected me to thrash this album. And I didn't, because it was a lot more fun than I expected. Man, it's nice to like things.

Next up... honestly, no clue, this weekend is going to be a complete shitshow, I'm going to be crazy busy. Stay tuned!

album review: 'fetty wap' by fetty wap

I've stated a number of times this year that 2015 has been great for hip-hop. From the revival of more conscious hip-hop to the explosion of potency in the underground to genre-bending experiments to old veterans returning with what's always worked, it's a good time to be in the rap game right now.

And yet if you look at the mainstream charts, there's one name that stands out like a sore thumb, an artist who seemingly appeared out of nowhere and yet won over a crossover audience with hit after hit. And his name was Fetty Wap, the 'wap' getting added later as a tribute to his favourite rapper Gucci Mane. Okay, already we're not off to a great start - and dig into Fetty Wap's story and it doesn't seem to ring as all that different to many rappers in that lane. He grew up in the projects in New Jersey, started working on his rap career, and decided to throw more singing into his delivery because he wanted to do something a little 'different'. Of course, he's not alone in rappers who add sung vocals to their bars, but there were very few who could match his warbling, part-Haitian, part-Biz Markie voice. From there, he released a song called 'Trap Queen' in early 2014 - and a year later, it started climbing the charts. The incredibly delayed reaction can probably be attributed to shifts in the mainstream taste - Young Thug's half-sung, half-rapped style hadn't yet broke through with 'Lifestyle', and Future spent most of that year wallowing in depressed, angry mediocrity.

But Fetty Wap was different. He had energy and personality, a knack for impressively sticky hooks and decent enough writing for pop radio, and his synth-heavy beats were breezy and bright enough to draw a lot of attention. And the amusing thing is that it doesn't seem like Fetty Wap's team expected this much success to come this quickly, as he snagged a spot on the XXL Freshman list for 2015 and people started clamouring for that debut album. And I'll admit I was interested: sure, Fetty Wap could hold down singles, but a full album is a much bigger proposition, especially when said album is seventeen songs and runs over an hour. Not what I'd advise for a starting rapper riding a wave of hype, but if they're looking to strike while the iron's hot, this would be the way to do it. So what do we get from Fetty Wap?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

video review: 'sun coming down' by ought

Believe it or not, this one took a lot longer than you'd think. Really a tough one to dissect, especially when you can't find all the lyrics.

Right, so next... honestly, no clue. Could be Fetty Wap, could be Destroyer, we'll see! Stay tuned!

album review: 'sun coming down' by ought

So close to this time last year, give or take a month or two, I finally decided to cover the debut of the Canadian indie rock group Ought, More Than Any Other Day. Based out of Montreal, cracking with the hyper-literate jittery energy you'd expect from university students recording while the student population was protesting, it won a lot of critical acclaim from critics for the obvious parallels to Talking Heads or maybe even Vampire Weekend. I was a bit more ambivalent on the group, mostly because no matter how much I liked the smart lyricism and the interweaving chaotic sound of the record, it definitely overstayed its welcome, occasionally wasn't as nuanced as it tried to be, and ultimately left me with a distinctive feeling of anticlimax at the end.

Since then, Ought has been touring extensively, patching a new album together between shows and reportedly doubling down on their influences from Sonic Youth or maybe even The Fall, cranking up the energy and groove. On the one hand, I didn't have any problems with this - Ought never seemed like a band lacking in nervous energy, but I've been looking for some more aggressive indie rock as of late and this could probably satisfy. On the other hand, it didn't look like the band's issues with succinctness had gone away - only eight songs, yet your average song length is about five minutes, with the longest at nearly eight. But hey, if the music doesn't drag, I'm not going to complain, so what does Ought deliver with Sun Coming Down?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 3, 2015 (VIDEO)

And this week happened. Whew, it took way too long to get this out, and considering how insane my schedule is this week, I'm lucky I got this out at all.

Next up... I really want to cover that Ought record, but waiting in the wings we've got Fetty Wap, Silversun Pickups, Kurt Vile, CHRVCHES, Julia Holter, The Underachievers, and that's not even counting Destroyer and Scarface (the former of whom I'm ready to cover and the latter I'm way behind in my backlog listen-through)... hold on tight, folks, this might be getting crazy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 3, 2015

I can predict a lot of people will be celebrating parts of this week's Hot 100. Not all of it, obviously - there's too much Rae Sremmurd to really get away with anything jubilant - but I can see a lot of people seeing the new #1 and a few of the new arrivals and getting excited. And that only further defines the difference between music nerds who follow the charts and the mainstream population, because I look at this week and I can only wish I'm as excited as everyone else.

Monday, September 21, 2015

video review: 'illinois' by brett eldredge

Yeah, I wish I could have gotten out more albums today too, but I'm exhausted right now, that Ought review is on its way.

But first, Billboard BREAKDOWN! Stay tuned!

album review: 'illinois' by brett eldredge

So one of the trends I probably haven't given the same time of day to in mainstream country is the slow trickling in of more R&B influences. It's not all that surprising, given the huge growth of R&B on pop radio, and as soon as Jason Aldean's 'Burn It Down' was a huge hit, it didn't surprise me others would gun for a similar sound. 

And like with bro-country, I'm more conflicted than outright negative towards this slicker, more metropolitan brand of country music. On the one hand, the increased usage of drum machines tends to irk me because it can lead to choppy, groove-lacking records like Sam Hunt's Montevallo or Luke Bryan's Kill The Lights, and given the modern association with hip-hop I can see why country fans might recoil from R&B, but on the other hand if handled well that spacier sound can lead to solidly melodic, more groove-driven albums. I may not have loved Billy Currington's last album Summer Forever or Dustin Lynch's Where It's At, but aside from being one of the few people who remembered those records exist I also remember there being cuts I liked. Hell, even though the Zac Brown Band's Jekyll + Hyde was a genre-bending mess, there were experiments that worked off of that album. What I'm ultimately saying is that while I get the antipathy from country purists, especially with this material clogging up mainstream country radio riding the trends, this isn't that far removed conceptually from the vintage pop that Lindi Ortega or Whitney Rose pull from, nor the psychedelic rock for Sturgill Simpson or the more progressive rock tendencies for that last Jason Isbell record.

As such, I wasn't certain what to expect with the sophomore record from Brett Eldredge called Illinois. Early buzz was suggesting he was going more towards that 'metropolitan' sound, mostly thanks to the backing of producer Ross Copperman, who did a lot of excellent production work on Dierks Bentley's last album. And I'll say it, the presence of Thomas Rhett as a guest star, the poster child for calling his brand of vintage pop/R&B garbage 'country music' did not raise my spirits. But on the other hand, Brett Eldredge is a good songwriter with a distinctive voice, and I really did love the warped melodies against the acoustic grooves of 'Lose My Mind' and I hoped at least this could at least be salvaged. So what did we get?

Friday, September 18, 2015

video review: 'honeymoon' by lana del rey

Well, this is going over about as well as I expected. Think I'm going to stick with releases that spark less of a crazy reaction for the next few videos, I can only contain so many shitstorms at a time.

So next up, Brett Eldredge, stay tuned!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

album review: 'honeymoon' by lana del rey

I bet there's a slew of you who are wondering why I'm bothering to do this review. I mean, it's not like I haven't made my opinion on this artist pretty damn clear by this point, so why on earth am I bothering to cover her?

Well, believe it or not, I actually do have a certain fascination with Lana Del Rey, at least in terms of her somehow still increasing popularity. I mean, I got it at first: 'Video Games' remains an excellent song, and I can even see it making sense into Born To Die - sure, the writing was melodramatic as hell and I didn't care much for Lana's delivery, but at least the production had a veneer of glamour and bombast that made songs like 'National Anthem' workable. But then Ultraviolence happened with Dan Auerbach behind the production boards and an attempt to emphasize more of a bluesy, reverb-swallowed sound, and the veneer was torn away. It didn't have the grandiose bombast to make compelling melodrama, and the writing rapidly became insufferable as Lana tried without fail to romanticize and glamorize her terrible behaviour, bad situations, and seeming inability to do anything to change them without an ounce of self-awareness. And sure, you can argue that's a character she's playing and that this is what Hollywood has 'made' her, but the writing and especially the framing doesn't really support that insight - and it's not as if it made the music any less tiresome and drab to add any subversive thrill to the regressive cliches and stereotypes. On top of that, she chose to abandon more her more soulful lower range for this high baby-voiced cooing slur that when it wasn't getting overwhelmed by the mix failed to raise any emotional response in me whatsoever. 

And you'd think that more people would have picked up on that, but it seemed like critics and audiences alike were enraptured by it and Lana Del Rey got bigger than ever, even finding her perfect male counterpart with The Weeknd and his shameless brand of hedonistic exploitation - but at least he knew enough to bring some visceral punch to his best melodramas. Whereas with Lana... well, maybe it's just everyone already knowing my preferences, but I've received a lot less requests for Honeymoon than I did for Ultraviolence, and I'll admit I was interested. Sure, singles like 'High By The Beach' annoyed the hell out of me, but I did notice that there were fewer producers than ever behind this album, with Lana handling even more of the production herself. So with more artistic control than ever before, what does Lana Del Rey deliver?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

video review: 'pagans in vegas' by metric

Well, this was an interesting listen. Wish I liked it more, but eh, it happens.

Next up... oh boy, might as well deal with this now. Lana Del Rey, folks - you can imagine what's coming.

album review: 'pagans in vegas' by metric

So here's something I bet the majority of you don't know. Back during the summer of 2012 when I was first getting a handle on making these reviews in written form on my blog, I reviewed Synthetica by Metric, a band that I've tended to like and admire but never quite love, the sort of over-ambitious indie rock act that liked to play with nifty big ideas and anthemic choruses that never quite managed to quite stick the landing, at least for me. Like most people, I started getting into them with the noisier, razor tight Fantasies, a record that anchored its groove in buzzy guitars and synthesizers, punchy drums, and the eerie multitracking of Emily Haines' vocals, and yet always fell a little short for me. Maybe it was the disparity between a great Metric track and a bland one was palpable, maybe it was Emily Haines' vocal timbre feeling perpetually disconnected, or maybe it was the lyrics that didn't hit home as often as they should, but Fantasies was about half of a great record.

And upon reflection, I'd probably make a similar observation about Synthetica, overall a more ambitious, cohesive, and engaging album, but never quite hitting the huge high points of Fantasies with songs like 'Gold Guns Girls' or 'Gimme Sympathy', and it seemed as through the rough edges and grooves were slowly being smoothed away in favour of more mechanical synthesizers. Of course, it fit the running motif of the record, distinguishing that difference between the human and artificial, but with rare exception it felt like only about half of the record really stuck with me. Although here I suspect I'm in the minority, as Metric seemed to only be getting bigger on Canadian alternative radio with an ever-increasing profile as an indie rock act with real crossover potential.

And yet in hindsight, Metric's steps towards new wave and synthpop almost seem prophetic, because over the past two years a considerable number of their peers have gone in the exact same direction. Which might now be the best thing for Metric, especially given they've got close competition from CHVRCHES, whose sophomore album is breathing down their neck right around the corner. And it was further concerning to hear to that this record was supposedly much more synth-driven, with Metric having an entire analog album waiting in the wings. So what did we get with Pagans in Vegas?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 26, 2015 (VIDEO)

So that came out faster than I expected. Didn't make the week any better, but eh, it happens.

Next up, either Lana Del Rey or Metric. Either way... whoo boy, it's going to be wild. Stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 26, 2015

So one of my general assumptions going into this week is that since we had so many new songs courtesy of The Weeknd's Beauty Behind The Madness, we'd have a comparable number of dropouts. It's a good rule of thumb, after all, as most album cuts don't tend to stick to the mainstream charts for long. And it's true that a few of them dropped out - but not nearly as many as I was predicting. In other words, we have a pretty lightweight week here - a fair amount of movement within the charts, but not nearly as many new arrivals as I was expecting.

Monday, September 14, 2015

video review: '90059' by jay rock

I'm curious to see the continued critical response to this album. Again, I expect it to be underrated, but what the hell do I know?

Next up... hmm, not quite sure yet. I kind of want to tackle some old business in a coming review, but that might have to wait until my schedule gets a little less nightmarish. In the mean time, Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: '90059' by jay rock

I think I've talked before that a good rap posse often has people falling into specific roles, to add variety or cater to different audiences - and for Top Dawg Entertainment, filling out that roster is surprisingly easy. Kendrick Lamar is the leader, Schoolboy Q is the gangsta, Ab-Soul is the weird one, Isaiah Rashad is the more laid-back fun-loving one, and SZA is the girl/pseudo-spiritual one. 

And this leaves Jay Rock, the California MC I've always been inclined to brand as the bruiser, the former Blood gang member who will drop ruthlessly hard bars to cater to a tougher rap audience. You could argue that he shares the most in common with Schoolboy Q, but Jay Rock always struck me as harder. Combined with the gruff intensity of his delivery, it's no surprise that he managed to snag a major label deal with Warner Bros off of a slew of high-powered mixtapes - a deal that went precisely nowhere. He eventually wound up signing with Tech N9ne's imprint Strange Music to finally release his debut album Follow Me Home. And while the album was far from bad, it was the sort of record that showed the signs of many delays and revisions, especially in the disjointed midsection and the inclusion of the one 'hit' he had at the end of the album 'All My Life (In The Ghetto)' with Lil Wayne & Far from bad - with solid West Coast-flavoured production and Jay Rock's aggressively potent bars, it's still a good record - but it lacked the cohesion and power that would later characterize TDE's later releases throughout the next few years.

And yet across every guest appearance on those TDE records, Jay Rock was spitting his ass off, showing real lyrical improvement in terms of his bars and punchlines and the hype for his sophomore release was palpable... and yet it kept getting pushed back or delayed indefinitely. After an exit from Strange Music last year, singles finally began trickling out at the beginning of June and we all had reason to believe that Jay Rock was going to deliver, but I admit I was a bit skeptical, if only because the extended recording process and delays might have led to the same lack of cohesion. But now it's finally here: does 90059 deliver?

video review: 'untold stories' by elvya

Well, this was a hard one to review - not that it was difficult to like, but not an easy record to understand or come to a coherent opinion on, it was definitely on the weirder side.

Next up... whoo boy, busy week. Jay Rock, Brett Eldredge, Metric, and (of course) Lana Del Rey. Strap in, folks, it's going to get messy!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

album review: 'untold stories' by elvya

So I occasionally get requests to review albums, but I also occasionally get bands or new acts that will outright send over their new records for me to cover. And for the most part, I try to get a chance to listen through all of it, but between my existing backlog and all the preparation I do for listening to more established artists, I just run out of time to cover everything, even if I like what I see. Plus, considering I do a lot of lyrical analysis, it can be a little infuriating when there's no lyric sheet or additional details provided beyond just the songs, especially if the mixing is poor and the lyrics are unclear.

So when I got the email about Elvya, I wasn't initially planning to do much until I caught some choice details. Full name Elvya Dulcimer, her music was reportedly more in the vein of Celtic folk that was on the cinematic side with this being her debut... with narration from Arjen Lucassen, the mastermind behind Ayreon. And if I know anything about Arjen, even though he didn't produce this and I didn't precisely love The Gentle Storm that he did with Anneke Van Giersbergen earlier this year, he's got an eye for quality. On top of that, former Within Temptation and current Kingfisher Sky member Ivar De Graaf was handling guitars and drums, so I have every reason to believe this could be something special. So I decided to check out her debut Untold Stories: how is it?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

video review: 'the book of souls' by iron maiden

I'm currently manning the barricade against the onslaught of comments... but then again, I'm honestly not sure how this'll be received, most metal fans tend to be more reasonable these days.

Next up... well, that Jay Rock album looks tempting, but I might not have time to get to it until Saturday. We'll see, so stay tuned!

album review: 'the book of souls' by iron maiden

I've said before that it's hard to talk about legends. It's even harder to talk about acts that were responsible for pioneering sounds and styles within an entire genre of music. And when that band has over thirty storied years of history and discography to examine, it can be an exhausting task going through all of the albums just to get the appropriate context. 

And you all want to know something funny? I'm currently doing this with at least three other acts as we speak, and not all of them are metal. It's a monumental exercise, especially when you realize these acts have so much material, good and bad, that it can feel like you're retracing history to listen through record after record. It's daunting but rewarding, and nowhere has this reward been more pleasing and pronounced than going through Iron Maiden's discography. I don't even need to bother with introductions for this British heavy metal act, mostly because said introductions would be painfully inadequate. These guys were responsible for some seminal metal albums, with their 80s output widely considered their best - and for good reason, because I can count a good four of those records as excellent and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son as a downright classic.

And then the 90s happened. The 90s were not kind to Iron Maiden, as they went through turbulence, line-up changes and a succession of records that ranged from okay but boring to outright mediocre. It wouldn't be until the mid-2000s that Iron Maiden could pull together quality again, becoming a six-piece act and putting together respectable records like the unmastered, live-show inspired A Matter Of Life And Death or the pretty solid but questionably produced The Final Frontier. And it's been five years since a new Iron Maiden album and when the rave reviews starting pouring in, I was definitely interested, but a little skeptical, especially considering it was their first double album spanning over ninety minutes. But hey, this is Iron Maiden, they've blown my mind before - sixteen albums into their career, can they do it again?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 19, 2015 (VIDEO)

I'm fairly certain this might be the longest episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN to date, and that's saying something. Here's betting the next one will be big too as so many of those album tracks from Beauty Behind The Madness drop out.

Next up, let's go metal and talk Iron Maiden - stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 19, 2015

You know, there are some weeks where I wonder why I even bother doing my album reviews, instead just focusing on Billboard BREAKDOWN, because in the case of certain records, nearly every song from it is going to land on the charts at some point, so why should I bother? And this week, not only do we have one of those cases, we also have a song from a previous case of it returning high to the charts. And yet, none of those have ended up being the biggest story of this week, mostly we have a new #1, the first of his career and one riding the wave of a tearful VMAs performance to take the very top. And folks, time to dust off those old pitchforks: Justin Bieber is back, and he's bigger than ever.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

video review: 'rodeo' by travi$ scott

Well, that's killing two birds with one stone for you! If you don't get it, watch to the end, you'll see.

Okay, next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN for real and then Iron Maiden - stay tuned!

album review: 'rodeo' by travi$ scott

I wasn't going to do this review.

See, one of the big positives about Billboard BREAKDOWN for me is that I can get a few weeks or months warning about albums coming down the pipe that might not be to my preferences based off of lead-off singles. And sure, it's far from an exact science, but more often than not, if I'm hearing your lead-off single and it's over seven minutes of decently produced but completely empty luxury rap with Future and 2 Chainz, I'm not inclined to look up your debut album.

And that's where I thought it would end with me and Travi$ Scott, Houston producer-turned-'rapper' affiliated with Kanye West and T.I.. He became known for his oppressive dark and bleak production, which I could appreciate, but I keep going back to the old adage I have with luxury rap: if the beats are so dark and dreary where it's clear nobody's having any fun, why in the Nine Hells would I? And it wasn't as if Travi$ Scott was a rapper worth caring about - this isn't A$AP Rocky, where you could at least expect some competently structured flows - on a technical level, Travi$ Scott just wasn't impressing me.

And when I took a look at the credits for this upcoming album, I didn't know what to think. Sure, he had some respectable names, but he only had a couple production credits - in other words, it looked like he was de-emphasizing the talents that made him famous for those that wouldn't help him stand out in a lineup. On top of that, his features list immediately struck me as questionable. I already mentioned Future and 2 Chainz, but Quavo from Migos? Young Thug and Justin Bieber? Chief Keef and Swae Lee from Rae Sremmurd? But I thought, 'Okay, maybe with him stepping away from the production boards, it might not be as cavernous and dreary'... even though the lead-off single and the album's running time of over an hour did not inspire confidence. But hey, I'm willing to try new things, so how was the Rodeo?

Monday, September 7, 2015

video review: 'heartbreaker of the year' by whitney rose

Man, I wish I could have gotten this album review out earlier, but this weekend was just... yeah, not productive at all.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN - stay tuned!

album review: 'heartbreaker of the year' by whitney rose

So when I did my Special Comment highlighting some gems on the Canadian Hot 100, I got a few comments saying that, 'Well, you were cherry-picking - there is obviously quality here but you easily could have highlighted bad Canadian music and chose not to'. And I have a confession: as much as I'm a proud supporter of Canadian music and even Canadian country, we got our duds out here. We even have our version of bro-country out here, mostly pushed by Dallas Smith, formerly the frontman of post-grunge group Default and now has been working with Joey Moi on trying - and mostly failing - to be a cross between Florida Georgia Line and Jake Owen.

But we're not going to be talking about bad mainstream Canadian country, but instead diving back into the indie scene, so let's talk about Whitney Rose. Originally from Prince Edward Island on the East Coast, she dropped her self-titled debut album in 2012 - and it might have just been rough timing, because another Canadian vintage-leaning country singer-songwriter also dropped a pretty potent album in 2012, and that was Lindi Ortega's excellent Cigarettes & Truckstops, easily her best work thus far. And it's not hard to make that comparison: both artists brought a certain sultriness, taste for traditional country blended with vintage pop flavours, and gorgeous atmosphere to the table, and Whitney Rose's album definitely was of high calibre. But while I'd definitely argue her writing was a huge plus, her instrumental tones and styles were a little too polished, at least for me: very elegant and potent, but occasionally lacking an edge.

That looked like it might have changed on her sophomore release, Heartbreaker Of The Year, so I gave it a listen: what did I find?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

video review: 'start here' by maddie & tae

Glad I finally got to this. Pretty solid album, pretty easy review - in other words, the best kind.

Next up, I'm thinking about Whitney Rose, keep with more country. Stay tuned!

album review: 'start here' by maddie & tae

You know, it's funny, I think that I've said more about the phenomenon that is Maddie & Tae than their actual music itself.

Then again, I don't think I'm alone in that fact. When 'Girl In A Country Song' smashed into the country scene in the second half of 2014, it was seen as the long-awaited backlash to the sputtering phenomenon of bro-country, and even though the girls themselves were rather coy about the issue, it certainly inspired some anger from the bro-country set. After all, according to them, who wouldn't want to be a girl in one of their country songs?

Now I was a lot more sceptical here, and that had to do with the people backing them, albeit circumspectly: Big Machine, run by Scott Borchetta and the label responsible for introducing the world to Taylor Swift. But with Taylor Swift leaving country for pop, Borchetta knew he had to fill the hole in the country market, so why not introduce a country duo who could replace her, also wrote all of their own songs, and had easy marketing as the tide was turning on the bro-country he helped push to market? Play both sides against the middle, and rake in the cash.

This had been my hypothesis about Maddie & Tae last December, when I made my Billboard BREAKDOWN Special Comment about their success in the context of 'God Made Girls', that piece of overproduced junk from RaeLynn that at the time was on the rise. And I had originally seen Maddie & Tae and RaeLynn as two sides of the same coin replacing Taylor Swift - one would be the confrontational group willing to pick the fight, the other would cater to the more demure, more conservative Christian demographic. But a few important things happened since then that changed the script: RaeLynn dropped off the face of the earth; Maddie & Tae released their second single 'Fly' which proved they could reach that softer market; and most interestingly, they started pushing back. They spoke out against the increasingly stiff nature of modern country production and reportedly fought for more of a neotraditional country sound on their debut album. So okay, you've got me interested, how does Start Here turn out?

video review: 'miley cyrus & her dead petz' by miley cyrus

Yeah, I know you guys all like it when I tear a record like this to shreds, but this was not a fun experience. So yeah, it'd be nice to some quality coming down the pipe...

Oh, look, I can talk about Maddie & Tae next! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

album review: 'miley cyrus & her dead petz' by miley cyrus

None of you should be surprised this happened.

Think about it, the signs were all there. From the VMA performance in 2013 that catapulted Miley Cyrus back into the public eye for better or worse to the album Bangerz, a record that was really all over the place to be salvaged beyond a few genuine gems, to the uneasy collaborations with hip-hop artists that created abortions like '23'. For a solid six months on the back half of 2013, Miley was dominant in the cultural conversation, for better or worse, and then it all fizzled out. In my opinion, she crippled her own momentum by releasing 'Adore You' under the delusion that song had any hope of being a hit instead of the near guaranteed smash and genuinely awesome song 'FU'.

And then came the rumours leaking out that Miley had gone back into the studio to work and do drugs with Wayne Coyne and later showed up on his Beatles tribute album With A Little Help From My Fwends, so you knew the favour was bound to be returned in full. It became even more evident when Miley severed her ties to Dr. Luke - the same producer who prevented Kesha's collaboration album with The Flaming Lips from getting released - because apparently he hates free festival publicity - amongst more horrid accusations that has seemed to stall Kesha's career indefinitely in lawsuits. And the parallel is important here: sure, both Kesha and Miley worked with Wayne Coyne, but Kesha always had a level of raw tightness and restraint and imagination in her compositions that balanced her ragged instincts against excess. Miley has never had that restraint, considering the massive overcompensation that has come with the burning of her child star image and her appropriation of whatever she can to flesh out an artistic identity.

So fast-forward to the annual craziness that was the VMAs, where Nicki Minaj buried the hatchet with Taylor and Kanye tried to filter through incoherent honesty... and through the entire show, trying to outshine everyone and prove she was still relevant, was Miley Cyrus. It cast her infamous 2013 performance into sharp relief - the shock might have worked twerking against Robin Thicke, but with no momentum, her attempts to throw herself into the drama of Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift or squeal raucously after Kanye's polemic, it reeked of desperation. And then she announced an album from out of nowhere and it made way too much sense - she needed something to boost the hype behind an album with no lead off single, no momentum, and the only shock value coming from the fact it was mainly produced by the Flaming Lips and had Phantogram and Ariel Pink on it! Not only that, it was over ninety minutes long over twenty-three tracks, all the more proof that there had been no restraint in its creation. In other words, I had zero expectations this would be good, but I knew it'd make for something interesting, so I dug into Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz - what madness did we find?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 12, 2015 (VIDEO)

And that's that episode. Another not particularly easy shoot, but eh, that happens.

Next up... okay, Miley, I'm prepared for the worst, BRING IT!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

video review: 'the expanding flower planet' by deradoorian

So this finally happened. Many thanks to Anthony for giving me a shot on a pretty fascinating record, definitely enjoyed doing this.

Next up... it's Miley, folks. Strap in, this'll get crazy.

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 12, 2015

So we're finally getting out of a lurching, generally incoherent summer and into the fall - in other words known as one of the most clustered and panicked times of the year when it comes to the Hot 100. The last hits of the year tend to debut in these weeks in the gamble they'll snag the year-end list, the album release schedule starts to pile up, and things get all the more busy on my end. And that's not counting any major shifts on the chart like we got this week, or the dropping of surprise albums that come right out of nowhere, which we'll be probably talking more about tomorrow.