Tuesday, December 29, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 9, 2016 (VIDEO)

Yeah, it's here early, mostly because it was pretty easy to put together for once - yay!

So next up, the fifty best songs of the year, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 9, 2016

So here's the thing about the Billboard Hot 100 around the holidays - it's basically a crapshoot. We're right after Christmas, most people are still in the regular holiday torpor and don't give a damn about new music, or are still partying in the lead-up to New Year's, which means that the 'hits' that can cater to that impulse are given one last shot on the radio. As for artists, it means that any act dropping a record right now can net a quick buck simply because there's little to no competition beyond late album singles. And the only artist who tried to leverage this dead zone, the one so many of you have asked me to cover... yep, it's Chris Brown. Wow, not a good sign.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

the top ten best hit songs of 2015 (VIDEO)

Well, this was fun to put together. Yeah, a few minor glitches, but it did come together in a hurry more than I'd otherwise like (mostly because I'm travelling atm and have limited Internet/computer time). Interesting to see all the controversy about my #1 pick, but you always get that sort of thing.

Anyway, now to focus on the Top 50 Songs of 2015, so stay tuned!

the top ten best hit songs of 2015

Of all of the lists that I put together throughout the last weeks of the year, this is probably my favourite, because it's where I feel the most populist. It's the acknowledgement at listing the absolute worst hits that there is good stuff that deserves attention too, and that the mainstream public actually agreed. And 2015 really was a good year. Yeah, hip-hop and country in the mainstream struggled, but there were a lot of great pop songs pulling on rock, synthpop, funk, and even R&B. And while I wouldn't say this year's hits are quite as strong as a year like 2012 or 2011, it handily beats the last two years I've been putting together this list not just in number of great songs, but their quality. And again, the songs had to land on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 - the deep-cuts and stuff outside the mainstream, that's coming next - but this was the good stuff that got popular.

So let's start with our Honourable Mentions, shall we?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

the top ten worst hit songs of 2015 (VIDEO)

Well, it's finally here, the video so many of you have been wanting for so long. Once again, thanks for your patience - because man, this is a doozy. Stay tuned for the Best Hits of the year in a few days, but until then, have a Happy Holidays!

the top ten worst hit songs of 2015

There are a lot of critics - myself included - who will say that 2015 was a better year for the Hot 100 than previous years. While there were a fair amount of bad songs, they don't quite dip into the seething rage that sparks when you have songs implicitly endorsing date rape like in 2013, or watching two of my favourite genres spiral into inane, offensive nonsense like in 2014. And sure, some of that did continue into 2015, it was largely overshadowed by the good songs being better and the bad songs not quite having the same staying power or cultural presence, with a few unfortunate exceptions that we will be discussing.

So let's re-establish the rules: the songs need to have debuted on the Billboard Year End Hot 100 this year, and just being obscenely boring doesn't cut it. So if you were expecting Rachel Platten's 'Fight Song' or 'Somebody' by Natalie La Rose on this list, it's not going to happen. And one other thing: just because I might have had a passionate reaction to the song on Billboard BREAKDOWN is no guarantee that the song might land on this list. As much as 'Coco' by O.T. Genasis is ridiculously incompetent, it's too stupidly earnest to be hateable so much as it is hilarious. This list is for songs that make my stomach churn, the tracks I avoid with all costs, the compositions where you wonder who in the Nine Hells greenlit for public consumption.

Of course, for some tracks you can see what they were going for, so let's start with our Dishonourable Mentions!

video review: 'purple' by baroness

And there we have it, the last of the album reviews before the lists begin. Wow, that was quite a run...

So, first up is the Top Ten Worst Hit Songs of 2015, which will be dropping later today - stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

album review: 'purple' by baroness

So here's something that really bugs me about the state of modern music criticism and journalism: the culture of clickbait. It's frustrating to me that lists will always be my most viewed videos, or where I display an extreme polarity of opinion, or that when I try to give an honest and thorough opinion, positive or negative, that might differ from the consensus, it gets branded as done so in order to 'draw views'. Trust me, if I wanted to game the system and draw in views, I'd keep my review videos at roughly half the length and they'd all be ranked lists of each song from least favourite to most.

And sadly nothing draws clicks faster than tragedy, and that's why I was very hesitant to open up a conversation about American sludge metal band Baroness... because inevitably, once you get past the great one-two punch that is Red Album and Blue Album and through the fascinating, if overlong double record Yellow & Green...you have to get to the bus crash. It's the point where many would be right to wonder if Baroness would survive, when three of the members were badly injured, two eventually leaving the band. And yet they would start touring again with new members and before long a new album was announced on their own independent label, reportedly a brisker affair than their last double album that was more of a return to their metal sound.

And believe me, I was optimistic. Not only is this sort of rebirth narrative always great to see, but Baroness are an impressive metal band, with an impressive skill for writing unique melodies and some thunderous tracks. What intrigued me more was that like Cage The Elephant, they had swapped out producers, John Congleton for David Fridmann, who is most well-known for working with The Flaming Lips. And while I had some very mixed feelings about this - Fridmann has been known to go overboard on the compression and loudness - I had hopes that Baroness would still deliver with a fresh lineup - was I right?

video review: 'king push: darkest before dawn - the prelude' by pusha t

Okay, that's one - got another a review coming tonight, the last album review of this year - stay tuned!

album review: 'king push: darkest before dawn: the prelude' by pusha t

I always get the feeling that I should be a bigger fan of Pusha T than I am.

Because when I reviewed his solo debut My Name Is My Name, I found myself struggling to like it. And going back to it now... well, putting aside how uneven it feels as a whole, Pusha T always struck me as a strong, technically detailed MC that didn't take his coke hustling and gangsta image beyond a wallow in darkness, almost for its own sake. And while he definitely had the voice and production for make something vividly compelling out of it, I kept looking for more of a pay-off that didn't really materialize. And it's not like Pusha T had The Game's pop sensibility or Freddie Gibbs' complicated framing or even the over-the-top gangsta iconography like Rick Ross or Jeezy - you could definitely argue that the methodical grime of Pusha T's best material simply operated as a mirror to the subject matter, nothing more, nothing less. But that's probably been the reason why I've always been a little underwhelmed by Pusha T's work over the past couple of years since Clipse broke up - for such a talented rapper, you'd like to think he'd go for more than that.

And the funny thing is that Pusha T appears to have brought more ambition to the table in the lead-up to his 2016 release King Push - so much so that he dropped an entire album's worth of material as a prelude, a short, brutally dark project released just before 2015 comes to a close as one of the best years for hip-hop in recent memory. And while I remember not being all that enthused about My Name Is My Name, after relistening to it I was interested in this. After all, that album had been stuck in development hell, and now that Pusha T had a firm hand on his career - probably helped by being appointed President of G.O.O.D. Music - maybe this prelude might have real impact for me. So how did Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude turn out?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 2, 2016 (VIDEO)

Goddamnit, this took WAY too long to get online - and really, it's entirely YouTube's fault, because I went back to the original video file and it was FINE. But apparently it glitched out at some point and because I'm a perfectionist (mostly), I fought through hell to get it reuploaded.

In any case, Pusha T and Baroness to get done tonight, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 2, 2016

I'll be blunt and say it - if this week didn't have The Voice, the charts would be significantly less interesting. And if I actually took some of you up on the suggestions to just avoid covering hits from The Voice, it'd actually be a pretty short week, but considering this was another deceptive week where things do not appear all that interesting outside of it thanks to the holiday slowdown, I might as well discuss it in more detail - it's not like the other new entries appear that much better.

Monday, December 21, 2015

video review: 'tell me i'm pretty' by cage the elephant

Oh god, this review was torture to make. Reshot it twice, had too many takes... and yeah, it was just painful. Thankfully, only two more left before the end of the year and they both look solid, so Pusha T, Baroness, and a new episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN coming up before the lists begin, so stay tuned!

album review: 'tell me i'm pretty' by cage the elephant

So I'll be the first to admit that there are some producers that tend to rub the wrong way - and if you've watched any of my rock or country reviews, you'll know the name that leaps to the top of my list is Jay Joyce. Most well-known in the country sphere for working with Eric Church, he's got a knack for production that can have impact with chunkier riffs and rougher edges, but it can lack subtlety or finer instrumental details. The funny thing is that if you flip over to the rock side, there's also been a band he's been working with since the start of their career who have had some success on modern rock radio: Cage The Elephant.

And I've always been kind of on the fence about this group, in that I really wish I liked them more than I do. They've got a knack for melody and there's are broad strokes to their explosively messy sound I find appealing to go with the occasionally twisted lyrics, but they're also not a subtle group, and it's led to their past three records being good but not quite great - you can definitely see why Jay Joyce worked with them. Part of this was the gradual maturing of their lead singer Matthew Shultz, as his early vocals has a nasal quality that got grating, especially on their wilder, more punk-inspired second album Thank You, Happy Birthday. Things improved the most on their third record Melophobia in 2013, which was a much thicker, heavier, more bluesy and psychedelic album, but despite a fair few great songs there were a lot of instrumental flourishes and genre shifts that I wish were a little more grounded or given more room to breathe, especially considering most of them served as outros that didn't really fit with the rest of the songs. That said, it was their most diverse and well-structured and helped define their most unique sound to date, and it seemed like they had a good groove going...

So naturally it makes sense to pitch their lead guitarist, Jay Joyce and start working with frontman of the Black Keys Dan Auerbach on production for their newest album. Now in theory you could have seen this coming - Cage The Elephant toured with The Black Keys, they were moving more towards blues rock, Jay Joyce is busier than ever these days, and Dan Auerbach has handled production before. Unfortunately, the last thing I covered that he produced was Lana Del Rey's Ultraviolence - not a good sign, and neither was the buzz suggesting that early singles for this album had shed some of Cage The Elephant's newly defined sound in favour of sounding like The Black Keys. But hey, this was my chance to evaluate if the compositional strength and writing could hold up in a different production environment, so I gave Tell Me I'm Pretty plenty of listens - what did we get?

Friday, December 18, 2015

video review: 'untamed' by cam

So this was actually pretty damn solid - how long it'll hold up is anyone's guess, but I definitely did enjoy this.

Next up, probably Cage The Elephant, so stay tuned!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

album review: 'untamed' by cam

So now that we're heading into the final weeks of this year, I think I can state this definitively: it was not a banner year for country music, especially for women and especially in the mainstream. Forgetting the ugly 'tomato' controversy and focusing just on the music, not only were the crossover hits fewer than ever, you'd typically have to add some heavy qualifications to calling them country at all. And the sad thing is that if you look to the indie scene, it wasn't that the records were bad so much as they were underwhelming compared to their previous work. Lindi Ortega, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, it happened to all of them, and it's not like any of them were crossing over to compete with Maddie & Tae or Carrie Underwood or Kelsea Ballerini any time soon.

Now there were two big 'exceptions' to this rule, the first being the unprecedented success of Little Big Town's 'Girl Crush', but I'm inclined to disqualify it from the conversation because Pain Killer dropped in 2014, they're a mixed-gender band, and you'd have to put some serious qualifiers on calling that country instead of folk or maybe even pop. The second is the unexpected sleeper hit of 'Burning House' by Cam, a song that I was initially not particularly impressed by when I covered it on Billboard BREAKDOWN, but in retrospect have come to appreciate a fair bit. That song - which has turned out to be the highest selling country song from a female artist in 2015 - led me to dig a little more into Cam, a singer from San Francisco who got her start as a songwriter before meeting up with producers Tyler Johnson and Jeff Bhasker, the latter who in recent years has been known to work with Kanye West, Natalia Kills, fun., Beyonce, and most recently Mark Ronson on his chart-dominating smash 'Uptown Funk'. In other words, we're looking an artist who once wrote for Miley Cyrus, seemed the furthest thing from Nashville and who ended up signed to Arista Nashville, the label of Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood. Worse still, even despite some positive critical press the label decided to release her debut album in mid-December - otherwise known as the dumping ground for album releases that labels have zero confidence will stick, because year-end lists are getting published, the charts are slowing down, and most people just don't care in the same way for new releases during the holiday season. And yet 'Burning House' continues to rise on the charts  and I figured I might as well try to give Cam's debut a chance if nobody else would - so how did it turn out?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

video review: 'know-it-all' by alessia cara

Well, this was rougher than expected. Hope for good, expect the worst, and it's a shame this turned out more of the latter.

Next up, Cam, then probably Pusha T if I can get a hold of his album before two rock records to end out the year - stay tuned!

album review: 'know-it-all' by alessia cara

Okay, so whenever you have a big act in the mainstream blow up with tons of buzz, critical success and mainstream crossover, you tend to have acts following behind them that want to cash in. Sometimes it feels natural, a trend that was growing that finally burst through, but more often it's a tad more cynical as otherwise popular acts try to jump on the sound. And in some cases, they might not even have a choice, especially if the label is pushing them in that direction.

But when you have a success story like Lorde's Pure Heroine breaking in 2013, major labels encountered an act that wasn't exactly easy to replicate. Sure, the immediate impact is a whole slew of pop acts who washed out their mixes, piled on the reverb and vocal filters, and focused more on percussion over melody, but they were never really able to capture that same vibe. Lorde's formula was more than just instrumentation, it ran in her smart songwriting and populism, and that's hard to pull off - hell, just look at Halsey's disastrous fumble with 'New Americana'.

As such, I wasn't exactly surprised when I heard that Def Jam had placed a major push behind Alessia Cara, a young Canadian singer-songwriter drawing more on old-school R&B for her debut EP - as you'd expect, given its current popularity. But her lead-off single 'Here' was more reminiscent of Lorde, not just in her thin, slightly husky delivery, but in the subversion of a typical party vibe with overwritten lyrics, to the point where people were legitimately angry it didn't net the same Grammy nominations. Now I wasn't wild about 'Here' when I covered it on Billboard BREAKDOWN, and thus I was kind of reticent about covering this album, especially given the rushed production schedule by her label to push it out before Christmas, but I figured I might as well give it a chance, especially considering how many of you kept asking for it. So how did Know-It-All turn out?

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

Well, this happened. Pretty rough week, again, but you've got to hope that once The Voice and Bieber are off the charts, things'll get better, right?

Anyway, Alessia Cara and Cam are next, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 26, 2015

Well, so much for the holiday slowdown! This was another one of those deceptive weeks on the Hot 100, where if you were only paying attention to the Top 10, you'd see a lot of stasis - but descend to the lower reaches of the charts and you'll see a whole lot of turbulence, as 2015 continues to flush away, with some pretty huge gains coming up to replace them. The Top 10 might sleep soundly now, but I expect disruption sooner rather than later.

Monday, December 14, 2015

video review: 'chaos and the calm' by james bay

Ugh, man, I wanted this to be a lot better - and yet writing it took so much that I couldn't get out the second review I wanted to today. We'll see if I cover - only a decent album there too...

Regardless, next up is a new episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'chaos and the calm' by james bay

So while we're on the subject of Grammy nominations, let's discuss a record that I'm certain some of you are baffled that I didn't tackle nine months ago - because on the surface, the pitch for it would be right up my alley. And frankly, the more I think about it, the more I'm surprised I didn't discuss the debut album from James Bay, English singer-songwriter who drenched his recordings in a blend of Nashville Americana and soul and English folk. He didn't exactly make a critical splash, but he quickly established himself as a charting success, especially in the U.K.

And believe it or not, but I've actually talked about this liquid-voiced singer before, on Billboard BREAKDOWN. More specifically, on the list of acts who were charting hits in Canada, but hadn't yet broken through in the U.S., and in this case it was easy to see why. Up here, we never really lost a workable rock scene, and that meant that indie folk developed a sizeable foothold up here. But really, James Bay's appeal is much simpler than even that: if you were looking for an acoustic singer-songwriter that played to a similar sound as Ed Sheeran but pushed the folk, country and rock sides more than pop, hip-hop, or R&B, James Bay was the artist you wanted. And yet for as much as he was very listenable, he's never really been an artist I've been inclined to explore in detail. Maybe I wasn't wild about how polished his sound seemed, maybe I wasn't as moved by his songwriting as so many others were, but until now, I hadn't really cared to dig deeper.

But apparently the Grammys disagreed, because James Bay is now up for three awards, mostly in the rock category plus Best New Artist. And frankly, I'd hesitate to say he's the frontrunner for any of the categories, either by popular consensus or my own preferences. But to be fair, he's also nominated for Best Rock Album and I haven't covered this record in detail yet - and at the very least, he should be better than Muse or Slipknot, right?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

video review: 'sound & color' by alabama shakes

Well, this took way too long to get out.

Next up, another record I missed a few months ago that also got nominated for a fair few Grammys, so stay tuned!

album review: 'sound & color' by alabama shakes

You know, for as much as I say I like blues rock, I don't really cover a lot of it. And for the past few weeks I've been wondering why and I think my answer is that I've got a very specific type of blues rock I enjoy. Dark, moody but with strong hooks, dirty production but not so fuzzed out and lo-fi that you lose the deeper textures, a solid sense of groove, and writing that can rise above some of the unfortunate cliches of the genre. And when you hold so much of it to a high standard like that, you tend to find a lot of bands don't really hold up as well as you'd like.

Take, for instance, Alabama Shakes - although, yes, you could definitely make the argument they're more soul than blues rock, which the band is always canny to sidestep. Now I was planning on covering Sound & Color months ago - the critical reviews were suggesting it was a great record from an upstart act with one hell of a frontwoman in Brittany Howard. But when I dug up their debut album... well, it wasn't that it was bad but I was definitely underwhelmed. Part of this was production that really could have afforded to give them a little more texture and crunch, part of it was writing I didn't think was all that stellar, and part of it was compositions that frankly weren't pushing anything. It was a reasonably solid release and again, Brittany Howard can sing her ass off, but I wouldn't go any further than that.

So fast-forward to now, and Alabama Shakes' sophomore debut has apparently won so much critical acclaim it's up for a Grammy. Now it's not going to win that Grammy - all the signs speak to either Kendrick Lamar or Taylor Swift winning for Album of the Year - but it was enough to think that maybe I hadn't given this band a fair shake. So I decided to dig up Sound & Color and try again - what did we get?

Friday, December 11, 2015

special comment: the wu-tang clan vs. pharma-bro: once upon a time in shaolin (VIDEO)

Okay, regularly scheduled reviews will be returning soon, but I had to do this, had to say something. Next up, some old business to cover, a few more regularly scheduled reviews, and then FINALLY year-end lists, so stay tuned!

special comment: the wu-tang clan vs. pharma-bro: once upon a time in shaolin

In March of 2014, the Wu-Tang Clan made an unexpected announcement: seven years after the release of their last album in 2007, they were putting together a new compilation record. Now it supposedly wasn't produced by the RZA, but it was still a double album of new Wu-Tang Clan, and what's more, the packaging was ornate: encased in a hand-crafted silver and nickel box that would tour the world through art galleries, museums, and music festivals before being sold to a single individual for an exorbitant price. Now sure, the rest of the world was still going to get a new Wu-Tang record titled A Better Tomorrow, that would be released around this time last year to mixed at best reviews, but for hardcore Wu-Tang fans, this was material that they desperately wanted to hear - and yet with the RZA's asking price in the millions, nowhere near enough money to hear it. Now there was originally going to be conditions built into a contract that the album could only be heard at listening parties and not shared or distributed, but eventually the group relaxed these terms so that the album couldn't be resold commercially, so there was a chance that one might be able to hear the album if it leaked.

And yet it doesn't seem like that is likely, because only a few days ago it was announced that The Wu - Once Upon A Time In Shaolin had been sold - to Martin Shkreli, a supposedly brilliant pharmaceutical executive who became infamous online for jacking up the price of an anti-parasitic drug named Daraphim from $13.50 to well over $750 - per pill. I should also add that this is a drug that's utilized for treating AIDS. Nicknamed 'Pharma-Bro' for his obnoxious attitude and confirming abhorrent stereotypes surrounding both pharmaceutical executives and hedge fund managers, Martin Shkreli participated in the online auction for the album and got it for two millions dollars - well under most of the RZA's reported asking prices. And as for the record, Shkreli has said he hasn't listened to the album yet and is 'saving it for a rainy day', or if 'Taylor Swift wanted to hear it or something like that'.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

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

The upload failed five times. Five times. Well, it's here now.

Next up... honestly, I've got a bit of an old business before I deal with Cam, Baroness, and Cage The Elephant. I guess I might have to cover goddamn Jeremih as well, but before then...

Sure, Alabama Shakes, stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 19, 2015

This is one of those weeks that I can imagine seems slow - the top ten barely moved, only a few new songs, and we even got the return of Christmas songs which imply that the annual winter slowdown is coming into place. But the more I delved into this week, the more I'm seeing some shifts that have real implications down the road - the 2015 charting trends seem to be fading faster than I expected, with the new ones - good and bad - creeping up to replace them.

Monday, December 7, 2015

video review: 'blue neighbourhood' by troye sivan

And that's two...next up? I honestly have no clue, I've got a lot of options to figure things out over the next few weeks before year-end lists.

But before that, Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'blue neighbourhood' by troye sivan

I wasn't looking forward to covering this album.

And really, if you took a look at my review of TRYXE last year, you'd understand why. The only reason I covered that EP was because I was overloaded by requests, and even in that case I only remember fragments of that record over a year later - mostly because it took the modern percussion and reverb-heavy brand of modern pop production and paired it with broad lyrical conceits that didn't always land and a vocal performance that I would best describe as adequate. It was a perfectly harmless EP, but that also meant that outside of fragments of 'Happy Little Pill' and 'The Fault In Our Stars', I don't remember it at all. 

So when I started getting requests to cover his full-length debut Blue Neighbourhood, I had no reason to care about this record. But then I noticed a few things: for one, the critics were praising this more than I would have expected, basically being described as a male cross between Lorde and Lana Del Rey. And while of course the latter comparison did not strike any confidence with me, it was the Lorde remark that actually spurred more interest, mostly because all of his collaborators on this debut are other Australian and New Zealand acts, the majority of which I've never heard before. The person I had heard of before was in the songwriting credits: while Sivan had the main writing credit for every song, the name that caught my eye was Jack Antonoff, member of fun. and frontman of Bleachers, one of my favourite indie rock acts to explode in recent years. And hell, all the buzz was suggesting this would be a more upbeat and exciting affair than the tepid slog of TRYXE, so I decided to give Troye Sivan another chance: what did we get?

video review: 'a head full of dreams' by coldplay

Well, given how well the last Coldplay review went, I can't imagine this one going better... but hey, you never know, right?

Next up, Troye Sivan as soon as the upload finishes - stay tuned!

album review: 'a head full of dreams' by coldplay

I don't know how to start this review.

Because let me give you a glimpse into my usual process when it comes to making these. The first bit tends to be written before I've given the album an in-depth listen, often providing some degree of analysis into my thoughts and research about the band before I start delving into the record in detail. And normally it's framed around some topic that I feel will correlate with the album I'm looking to explore, which can lead to some interesting shifts in perspective mid-review, but hey, it happens.

And thus when I sat down to work on this review, my plan was to start with a lengthy digression on what it means for an act to 'sell out' in today's day and age, because I get the impression that not a lot of people understand what it means. No, it's not just a genre shift towards pop - you can sell out while still making the same genre of music - but it's more focused on a band submitting to the songwriting machine to crank out hits. And hell, it's not even always a bad thing: sometimes 'selling out' provides the creative impetus to spark otherwise known skills in the artists in question. But the reason why it tends to be regarded by so many - especially critics of the older generation - as a bad thing is that it reflects a loss of artistic integrity and individuality. And for a critic who will listen to hundreds of records a year, those individual elements that stand out are worth all the more, something that might not be the case for more casual listeners. 

But what happens when you get a band like Coldplay, a band who has always played for populism in broad strokes and has enjoyed consistent mainstream success because of it? Would it be even possible for them to 'sell out', especially considering their newest album A Head Full Of Dreams was intended as the upbeat resolution to the downcast, minimalist, very much underwhelming electronics of Ghost Stories? And sure, they were working with Beyonce and Tove Lo and Stargate, but they were working with pop stars as early as Mylo Xyloto and with mainstream producers like Avicii last year - this isn't anything new. And yet when I checked out their lead-off single 'Adventure Of A Lifetime', I got the impression that despite more personal themes, the change in sound might be enough to fall into that sell out lane. What did become clear is that further investigation would be required - so what did we get with A Head Full Of Dreams?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

video review: 'have you in my wilderness' by julia holter

Well, about damn time I got this one out. Took way too long, but again, I wanted to make sure it was done right.

Next up, probably Coldplay, but not tonight - really shitty day, need to take a breather. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

album review: 'have you in my wilderness' by julia holter

It's so easy to forget that not everyone listens to everything, especially when you're not on the Internet. It's a bizarre thing, especially when you live in a city like Toronto and you hang around a circle that likes to stay up to date on trends - and it's all the more pronounced online where anything and anyone can build a following. But when I was leaving a meeting at my full-time job a few months or so ago and said I was going to listen to some Kurt Vile and I got blank expressions. This guy has been a fixture in indie rock for the past decade in multiple groups, and nobody in that room knew who he was. It really throws into stark relief that so many will only listen to the radio or a few personal favourites, and that while I could brush it off by saying, 'Well, I listen to weird stuff', I bet if I played some of the music off that album, it'd be easy enough to like - it's not that inaccessible. A bit off the beaten path, but if the money or push was put behind it, I could see it gaining a little traction on the right stations.

So fast-forward to me listening to Tragedy, the debut album from Julia Holter reportedly inspired by the Euripedes play Hippolytus, an atmospheric project that utilized overlapping soundscapes with absolutely no regard to conventional song-structure or hooks - in other words, far less accessible and the antithesis to radio, the sort of music that's just as difficult to describe as it can be to enjoy, especially if you're coming from the mainstream. And yet there was something oddly beautiful about the record in its brilliant control of atmosphere and mood that I really appreciated.

And yet since tragedy, every subsequent album from Julia Holter has been stepping towards more conventional definitions of songwriting, first with the gorgeous and pretty damn excellent Ekstasis and then a year later with the even better, more intimate Loud City Song, a tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood musical from 1958 Gigi. And the more I delved into the gleaming, elegant melodies and impressively textured production and impressionistic but surprisingly potent writing, I realized something that I'm sure will piss some of you off: this would be what Lana Del Rey would sound like if she was good at her job, if she avoided wallowing in her own melodrama and simply worked on polishing her vintage sound into something that brought the past to life now instead of simply revisiting it. Granted, she probably wouldn't have the same pop appeal, but with every album, Julia Holter was proving she could probably do just as well in that world.

And two years later, she's coming back with Have You In My Wilderness, her longest gap between albums and another release that's won her huge critical acclaim - is it deserved?

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

Well, that took longer than I wanted it to... eh, I'm still getting used to the new format (that's why I made that stupid Cole Swindell mistake... gah, two weeks in a row, get your game together, dude).

Next up, need to tackle some old business before dealing with Coldplay, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 12, 2015

It's the calm after the storm, the time of year where everything seems to fall back into place after frantic reshuffling to make it appear that the onslaught never really happened and all is right with the world.

Why, yes, I'm talking about Adele taking back chunks of the chart from Justin Bieber, why do you ask? Okay, snark aside, while everyone predicted there'd be chunks of Adele's new album breaking onto the Hot 100, it's not as pervasive as you'd expect, and along with plenty of returning entries and chart shuffling, it's more indicative that Bieber and to a lesser extent One Direction didn't have the same staying power.