Monday, February 29, 2016

video review: 'this unruly mess i've made' by macklemore & ryan lewis

Goddamn it, I wanted this record to be so much better than it is... can't expect this review will go over well, especially considering the political start to things, but still...

In any case, next up is Billboard BREAKDOWN and The 1975, so stay tuned!

the top ten worst hit songs of 2008 (VIDEO) (ft. thedoubleagent)

Well, this happened. This is why there was a bit of a drought of videos at MAGFest a few weeks back, I was working on this! Thanks a lot to Ethan for joining me here, it was a ton of fun!

Unfortunately, the second review going out is far worse... so stay tuned...

album review: 'this unruly mess i've made' by macklemore & ryan lewis

"You know why people hate liberals?  Because they lose. If liberals are so goddamn smart why do they lose goddamn often?"

That was a quote from a self-identified Republican from the Aaron Sorkin-penned show The Newsroom in 2012, and as we head into the upcoming trainwreck that will be the 2016 general election, I think I can see an answer to that question. It's not an answer anyone wants to hear, especially as a liberal, but where conservatives will unite despite most internal schisms, liberals will demand ideological purity and drive people away, preferring to 'win right' rather than win, which can make the losses all the more costly.

Okay, so what does any of the politics have to do with Macklemore, a good but not great independent rapper who has released his sophomore record pairing him with the perennially underrated producer Ryan Lewis? Well, the more I've seen the hype and the even greater backlash to Macklemore the more I've come to realize that his career probably be most damaged by the audience for whom you'd think would be a natural fit - the social justice community. Keep in mind this is a rapper who months before 'Thrift Shop' caught fire released a song supporting same sex marriage in the United States, and who has released music criticizing the industry and exploring his own alcoholism... and yet in the past few years I've seen Macklemore be dealt more hatred, distrust, and outright scorn from an audience on the surface you'd expect to be more receptive than rappers who you'd think would be much bigger targets who have said far worse things.

Now to be clear here, it hasn't helped that Macklemore is not particularly artful in some of his social commentary, and being entirely too earnest and corny makes him easy to mock. But of all of the criticisms leveled against him, the one that he is mercenary and 'profiting' off of the social justice movement while not truly believing it is the most ludicrous and frustrating for me, mostly because if that was true, he wouldn't nearly screw up as often and invite the tidal wave of hatred he gets. There are legitimate grievances with him - his work is clumsy and broadly sketched, he's proven too willing to be the martyr, especially in public, the tonal whiplash between goofy and preachy can be disconcerting, and at the end of the day as a rapper he has a lot more dud lines than he should - but for as hard as Macklemore is trying, it truly is frustrating to see the audience that you'd think would receive him counterattack instead of help.

So when I heard that Macklemore newest collaboration with Ryan Lewis was going to be called This Unruly Mess I've Made, it made too much sense. Here was a man who has had an exceedingly messy few years trying to make sense of it all, and given the extremely mixed critical response, I wasn't sure where this was going to land. And his list of featuring credits was even more bizarre, spanning golden age titans to Ed Sheeran, KRS-One to YG, Anderson .Paak to Idris Elba - so what sort of mess did we get here?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

video review: 'dori freeman' by dori freeman

Oh, I'm so happy I got the chance to cover this album. Doubt it's going to get a lot of traffic, but I hope I can drive more attention to her - this girl deserves a lot more attention.

Next up, Santigold, Macklemore, and The 1975 - stay tuned!

album review: 'dori freeman' by dori freeman

So I haven't talked as much as I'd prefer about indie country yet this year, mostly because of the same reason I haven't talked about much hip-hop this year - 2016 has had a bit of a slower start, and there hasn't been much that's really caught my ear.

And yet there's been one artist that when the indie country sites exploded with critical acclaim, I knew I had to take a look eventually, and that woman is Dori Freeman. Born in south-west Virginia, it seemed like her situation would be the same for many indie country prospects with no real web presence - it's never good for buzz if I've got more of a following than the artist I'm covering. And then something funny happened: she was 'discovered' by Teddy Thompson, the son of the legendary singer-songwriter Richard Thompson, who pulled enough strings to get her into the studio to cut a debut album. Now keep in mind that Dori Freeman doesn't seem to have any obvious connections to the burgeoning 'New Outlaw' movement under Dave Cobb in Nashville - we could have the sort of outlier that rarely receives any attention at all if not picked up by the critical set or an indie label with ingenious promotion or something going viral.

In other words, this is the sort of artist my channel is made for, so I finally got the chance to really dig into Dori Freeman's self-titled debut album - what did I get?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

video review: 'paradise' by pop. 1280

Again, this review took way too long to get out, but it's finally here. Next up is Santigold and Dori Freeman, so stay tuned!

album review: 'paradise' by pop. 1280

I guarantee the majority of you did not see the review when I covered this band the first time.

And frankly, I'm amazed that in the summer of 2013 and after a random browse through Pitchfork that I decided to cover them, more out of bored curiosity than anything else. And while I haven't really revisited much of that record, I do distinctly remember Pop. 1280 as a weird, twisted, dark little band, driving some surprisingly solid melodies through the noise to create a hollow, rattling somewhat industrial flavour, with lyrics that seemed to alternate between punk railing against the machine and the craven horrors that humanity engaged in to survive. And while I wasn't always wild about frontman Chris Bug's delivery or the haphazard mixing, I did think their sophomore release Imps Of Perversion was a step in the right direction to emphasize the band's strengths that got overshadowed in the rough noisy murk of their debut.

And thus when I heard that their third album had opted for an even bigger, even more electronic-enhanced sound, further polishing and building off of the foundation of their last release, I was definitely interested. So, better late than never, I dug into their third album Paradise - what did I get?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 5, 2016 (VIDEO)

Well, that was okay. Little late to blast this episode, but here it is.

And speaking of late... well, stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

special comment: '#freekesha - a response' (VIDEO)

Well, this happened. Hope it goes over well, but even as I read more stories about this, I can't help but feel my information will be woefully outdated.

Eh, it happens. Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 5, 2016

I was expecting this week to be busier than it is. I mean sure, it wasn't exactly a quiet week - new number one, a bunch of new arrivals and some considerable jumps around the chart - but I was oddly expecting more. Turns out one of the biggest factors that I was expecting - Kanye's big release - actually made no impact, because he kept it TIDAL exclusive, which Billboard doesn't count. And as for the Grammys... well, maybe it's just me, but with a few exceptions, it actually seemed more reasonable.

special comment: #freekesha - a response

I hoped that I would never have to make this.

In 2013, I made an extended Special Comment video surrounding the mismanagement of pop star Kesha's career, culminating in the cancellation of the collaboration project she made with the Flaming Lips, Lip$ha. In said Special Comment, I outlined all of the reasons why this was an asinine decision that ultimately cost them a considerable profit and the opportunity to market a more versatile and bankable star instead of doubling down on club boom trends that were nearing their final moments. Granted, the entire Warrior rollout and promotion had been a catastrophe where the labels had repeatedly shot themselves in the foot, to the point where you could argue it was intentional sabotage.

Monday, February 22, 2016

theneedledrop podcast: white publications and black music (w/ anthony fantano)

This was a fascinating conversation - thanks again to Anthony to have me on his podcast, and I hope to have another chance to delve more deeply here on a later date! In the mean time, if you want to hear two music critics talk race in music criticism, this'll be one of the more enjoyable runs, so have fun!

video review: 'the driver' by charles kelley

Yeah, this video honestly should have dropped a few days earlier, but I was at MAGFest and really never got a chance to get the editing done. Not to worry, I've got more footage and editing to get out there, but until then, I'm going to try and get the Pop 1280 and Lori Freeman reviews out. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

album review: 'the driver' by charles kelley

So I have said in the past that I don't care about the Grammys - it's an industry award that's more intended to recognize popular opinion than critical consensus, and it's often just as political as the Academy Awards - see the Best Album award this year. But sometimes the Grammys manage to surprise me, and when the nominations were announced for this year, there was a song nominated for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. Furthermore, it was a song that seemingly dropped overnight, and since then has never broken the Top 40 on country radio. Not the Billboard Hot 100, which might as well have no idea this song exists, but on country radio. Think about this for a second: this is a song from two well-established artists and a third with some critical acclaim, and this song went nowhere. In other words, for me this looked more like the Grammys trying to plug a hole in the ballots with whatever might fit, especially considering it didn't win.

But is that unfair? The song, as you're all probably aware by now, is the title track from Charles Kelley's debut album - and if you don't recognize the name, he's the frontman of Lady Antebellum, a band that I've always found frustrating in that I should like them more than I do. Now of the members of Lady Antebellum I tend to like Charles Kelley more than Hillary Scott for having a voice with more unique character... but let's be honest, we're not exactly hurting for male mainstream country acts right now, especially when he doesn't even have the majority of songwriting credits on his own album. And that was presuming this record would be country at all! Lady Antebellum has always rested on the border between country and adult alternative, and considering the album included a Tom Petty cover with Stevie Nicks - because why not make the Fleetwood Mac parallel all the stronger - I honestly wasn't sure what Charles Kelley would be delivering with this. But on the other hand, it was only nine tracks and I was curious, so how did The Driver turn out?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 27, 2016

So after two weeks of pretty hectic movement, things seem to have finally settled down a bit on the Hot 100. Now this didn't mean we didn't get new debuts or a few big shifts, but with the resetting positions in the top ten, it looks like we got a week of calm before the aftermath of the Grammys and Kanye's release blows the chart into complete chaos. Eh, you take them when you can get them.

video review: 'ghostlights' by avantasia

Again, better late than never. And in this case, I'm happy to get it out, because this was a real welcome surprise.

In any case, Billboard BREAKDOWN coming up next, followed by that new Charles Kelley and maybe Pop. 1280 if I have time. But this weekend I'm going to be out of town, so it might be tight timing. Either way, stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

album review: 'ghostlights' by avantasia

So when I talked about The Mute Gods a few days ago, I brought how supergroups tend to market themselves - these people are attached to something you already know and like, and now they're working together, so you should buy that. In truth, that's one of a few ways, the second being a lot more complicated and unlikely: one artist with a defining vision recruiting a whole team of established artists in order to realize that grand plan.

Now some of you will inevitably point to hip-hop and say, 'Well, duh, we get this all the time', but this falls into a slightly different category, because how often do all those guest verses fit with the story or concept, presuming there's a story or concept at all. When you narrow it down like that, this list gets a lot smaller, and it also further divides into two categories, this time focusing on the man behind said project. Is he a musical genius capable of sketching out a vast world where every unique singer plays a distinct part, or is he simply an incredibly gifted networker who has some solid connections? In the former category in metal, the name that immediately jumps to mind is Arjen Lucassen, the founder of the progressive metal Ayreon project. And on the flipside, you have Tobias Sammet, frontman of Edguy and leader of the symphonic power metal project Avantasia.

Now I've been getting asked about my opinions on Avantasia since I mentioned that I like symphonic metal, but prior to doing this review, I had never really delved into them at length. So I took the opportunity to listen through their previous six albums and try to get a handle on the story that Sammet is writing - that's the big reason why this review is as late as it is. In short... I wish I liked this group a lot more than I do. Don't get me wrong, the group can often put together some spectacular symphonic metal songs, but the albums can feel pretty uneven, partially thanks to tracks not always doing enough to stand out from each other - with the exception of some godawful synth choices - partially because the writing can dip a little too often into metal cliche, and partially because the stories can get incomprehensible if you're trying to follow the plots. Now this upcoming record is following along from the story started on their 2013 project The Mystery of Time, a record aiming for grander symphonic presence, which focuses on a character in Victorian England falling in with what I'd basically described a steampunk machine cult. I definitely think it's a good, if hard-to-follow and frequently overwritten album, although I wouldn't say it always gives us their best individual songs, but apparently Ghostlights was going to be even bigger, even darker, even more grandiose... was that really the case?

Monday, February 15, 2016

video review: 'the life of pablo' by kanye west

Well, this happened. Sure it'll go over GREAT.

On a different note, Taylor Swift beat Kendrick Lamar for Album of the Year at the Grammys and apparently snapped at Kanye. There has not been a time in recent history where I wished Kanye would interfere in something more - the Grammys have always been worthless, but this is worse than usual.

Whatever. Next is Charles Kelley, Avantasia, and a few indie country acts (and I do need to get to Pop 1280 at some point too). Stay tuned!

album review: 'the life of pablo' by kanye west

There's no easy way to talk about Kanye West.

I mean, at first it was easier. The first three records hold up as some of the best hip-hop of the 2000s, excellently produced with a flow that was frequently clumsy and forced but had enough interesting ideas and personality to make up for most of it. But I'll also be the first to admit that I wasn't really won over by those records - solid, sure, but the braggadocious side of Kanye has always rung a little hollow to me, something that he wants to believe in his worship of Jay-Z rather than something that clicks on a deeper level. So while I liked Kanye initially, it wasn't those albums that won me over. That came with 808s & Heartbreak, which I'd argue hit me harder as a whole than any album he's released. The usage of autotune as a method for him to distance himself from the audience and his own emotions, an underappreciated gift for melody, and lyrics that tap into an unflattering but powerfully human heartbreak that felt more real than most of the flash of previous albums.

Then came the VMAs in 2009 and Kanye saw himself vilified, so he ripped away the smokescreen to make My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a record of which I have the contentious opinion of having simultaneously some of the best and worst of Kanye's discography - some great cuts and evocative images let down by sloppy indulgence and half-formed ideas. It's also a record that snapped into focus the picture of who Kanye is - a world-famous and gifted artist who is monumentally insecure and cares way too much, who has enough distance from his life to write with unflinching detail about it, but not enough to filter his emotions or outrageous thoughts before he says or does something asinine. That got amped up to eleven with Yeezus in 2013, where he consciously chose to embody all of the negative stereotypes he initially painted on his last record, but as such it felt far less convincing. Part of this is that Kanye is a consummate borrower: starting with sampling as a producer to the appropriation of whole styles like on Yeezus, where he essentially sounded like a low-rent Death Grips. As such, I tend to find my liking of Kanye tends to fluctuate the more of his influences I hear - I admire his production and his ability to paint some vividly unsettling pictures using the foundation of commercial hip-hop - 'Hell Of A Life' and 'Blood On The Leaves' are the two best examples of that - and yet his sloppy flow, corny references, frequently uneven performances, and occasional outright misfire makes him hard for me to really appreciate. 

As such, watching the build-up to this new Kanye release was kind of fascinating, at least before it started becoming exasperating. Not only did the album title change three or four times - along with the track listings and album art and Kanye's off-kilter Twitter providing more fuel for the fire - it seemed more like Kanye didn't know what to give. It certainly didn't show any indication of a coherent artistic vision, especially considering the track listening and album art was being changed not only up to the intended release date but right past it to the weekend. Whatever, Kanye's long ago reached the point where critics and his diehard fans will furiously masturbate over whatever he puts out, so what did we get with The Life Of Pablo?

video review: 'do nothing till you hear from me' by the mute gods

Well, this happened. Took way too long to get released, but it's here.

Next up is Kanye... oh boy.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

album review: 'do nothing till you hear from me' by the mute gods

So I'm going to start things off on a bit of a weird tangent, but I promise it does mostly make sense in context, and here it is: am I the only one who finds the whole recommended playlist or video or album concept completely frustrating?

Maybe it's because I'm a music critic, but I'd like to think the idea spreads across all forms of media: just because I like something of one genre is no guarantee I'm going to like something in the same genre, especially if I've got no historical record of liking them in the past. Just because I like Nightwish and Within Temptation doesn't mean I want Evanescence recommendations, for example. And what's exasperating is that you know it's entirely algorithm-based, off of tags and your historical viewing habits, all driven to make you consume more content - I'd prefer to take something similar to what Amazon or iTunes does, which correlate albums that people buy with other purchases they might have made. Maybe it's just me, but I'd trust the taste of people over the taste of a computer trying to ascertain what I'd think. Now the logical extension of that is that since people default to the lowest common denominator that they'd behave in a similar way to the algorithms, but you'll find when you go into smaller niche genres like progressive rock that it isn't quite the case, as people here are a little more willing to venture off the beaten path. 

I say all of this not just because this supergroup showed up a number of times when I was looking for new progressive rock, but also because bands tend to market themselves in a similar way - 'hey, we worked with these artists you liked, so maybe you should check out our stuff!' Again, a similar sense of caution needs to be there, but I'll admit I was intrigued when I first heard about The Mute Gods. Two of the members - bassist and frontman Nick Beggs and drummer Marco Minnemann - had toured with Steven Wilson and had played on his excellent record from 2015 Hand. Cannot. Erase. So when they called up Roger King to handle lead guitars, keyboards, and production, I had reason to be enthused, but I was also cautious. I might have issues with Steven Wilson, but the man is also a musical genius as a composer and songwriter, and I wasn't sure whether the stridently political approach that The Mute Gods were looking to take with their debut was as workable as they thought. But hey, at the very least these guys can all play incredibly well, so we're bound to get some great music out of it, right?

movie review: 'deadpool' (VIDEO)

I was really hesitant about releasing this video at all - it's more of a rambling vlog than anything else... but I do think it came out all right, and I'm curious how the response is going to be.

And that all means that yes, the Mute Gods and Kanye reviews are coming soon, so stay tuned!

Friday, February 12, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 20, 2016 (VIDEO)

Can't believe I almost forgot to post this.

So yeah, no review yesterday - splitting headaches will do that to you. And now with Kanye's new record... okay, I still want to get this Mute Gods review out (better late than never). Then Avantasia, Kanye, maybe this Charles Kelley record... although if I'm looking towards country, Wheeler Walker Jr. and Dori Freeman both look fun too. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

video review: 'all i need' by foxes

Yeah, I know Billboard BREAKDOWN is late. Turns out that file corruption makes editing an absolute bitch, especially when you only discover it 2/3 of the way through. Working to resolve it for tomorrow, but until then... well, I have no idea what I'll cover next, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 20, 2016

So like anyone who follows the pop charts, I've got a taste for the ironic, the sort of missed chances and opportunities that end up getting lodged in history because of how the charts put a timestamp on each moment. And this week, we got that irony twofold: not only did Drake bungle his release strategy to get a single to the #1 spot again, but now we have a new #1 smash hit from Zayn Malik, former member of One Direction - a feat that with all of their rabid fandom and push, they were never able to achieve.

album review: 'all i need' by foxes

So, do you ever have those records where you hear them, you like them a fair bit, you might have even done a review of them... but when you really think back about them, you don't remember them all that much?

Well, back in 2014 I covered Foxes' debut album Glorious, and while I definitely remember liking it for its bombast and balance of quirky indie pop with EDM bombast and for Foxes' excellent and expressive vocals, it wasn't really an album that had a lot of staying power with me. There were a few songs I liked and occasionally revisited, but in the ever expanding list of indie-leaning pop artists, Foxes didn't really stand out for me as much as I'd like - good with real glimmers of promise but nothing hugely distinctive. I think a lot of it was the songwriting - it was arguably the biggest weakness on Glorious, feeling a little amateurish and broadly sketched to really click for me - but it was also that any push behind her solo work kind of evaporated, and she wasn't getting the same feature work as she did before. And I do think that's a shame - kind of like Carly Rae Jepsen she's got a knack for infectious pop music, only where Carly Rae looks backwards to retro-80s synthpop, Foxes was aiming for something a little more modern.

Now one thing that I remembered in the aftermath of that review is that I was told much the album was intended as more abstract, not quite as focused on the bad relationships the lyrics seemed to indicate - and honestly, I'm willing to concede the point... if only because Foxes has gone on the record by saying that this new album All I Need was inspired by them, reportedly stripping things back to a more emotional core. On the one hand, going smaller and more intimate might not be a bad change of pace if you're looking to stand out, but I wasn't sure Foxes had the emotive subtlety in her delivery or writing to really pull that off. But hey, I've been wrong plenty of times before - and in this case I definitely wanted to be wrong - so how did All I Need turn out?

video review: 'this is acting' by sia

Ugh, this mess took way too long to get to, not helped by my schedule over the past weekend. Things have righted themselves, thankfully, but it's still been hectic.

Okay, next up is Foxes, so stay tuned!

Monday, February 8, 2016

album review: 'this is acting' by sia

Let's talk briefly about being a pop songwriter.

Now I've said in the past - hell, I did an entire Special Comment on it - that being a pop songwriter is arguably even harder. Let's be honest, you can write anything in the indie scene and some hipster somewhere will declare it a work of absolute genius - working within the pop framework is trickier, walking that tightrope between popular appeal with a hook and conventional structure and those sparks of individuality that make you a unique artist. And that's when you're writing for yourself - writing for another artist is often even harder, because while you want some of your personality to come through in the composition, you also need to consider the strengths and weaknesses and unique character of that performer too.

And yet whenever I hear a pop song written by Sia Furler, former indie pop darling turned songwriter and pop star in her own right, it's hard not hear Sia's unique tone and personality ring through in the writing. And in a sense that's a good thing: even though I have my issues with Sia's underwritten style and hyperbolic imagery and the tip away from more complex material that's occurred since her early work, she does have a defiantly unique voice in her writing. The problem becomes that said voice is often matched by her voice-shredding vocals to elevate the material - she's the one who sounds best on her own material.

Where things get interesting is that other artists appear to have recognized this, and for one reason or another a fair few of Sia's tracks have been rejected by artists over the past while, even with her writing her most pop-centric tracks to date. So in a fit of inspiration, Sia decided to pull all of these tracks together and release them as her own, putting her own spin on her attempts to match the style of others. Okay, nifty concept, I'm intrigued - so what does Sia deliver?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

video review: 'the astonishing' by dream theater

Another one that was long in coming, but I wanted to tackle it regardless. In the mean time, my schedule has gotten frankly insane, so I'm hoping to blow through a few releases fairly quickly. Sia first, then Pop. 1280, Avantasia and The Mute Gods, then Foxes and a few hip-hop releases that I have absolutely zero expectations for.

In other words, stay tuned! 

album review: 'the astonishing' by dream theater

...okay, so maybe Dream Theater was going back to their concept album days. I've been wrong before, I can own up to it.

But just so you all have context - my channel has gotten approximately seventeen times bigger than the last time I talked about Dream Theater in a review - when I covered their self-titled record, I made the comment that Dream Theater seemed to be charting a new direction, at least in terms of how they thematically structured their albums. And that made a certain amount of sense - the self-titled record was considered a return to form, charting a new era for the band.

But let's get real here: it was only a matter of time before Dream Theater returned to the well of a narrative-driven concept record. Hell, Metropolis Pt. II: Scenes From A Memory, which you can make a convincing argument was their best album, was a narrative-driven concept record, and that was seventeen years ago, so why not go for it again? Well, they definitely did: a double album, over two hours, with a full symphonic backing orchestra and dystopian narrative... but unlike on Metropolis, frontman James LaBrie was going to be playing all seven main characters characters. By all accounts, this is one of the most ambitious projects Dream Theater has ever attempted, and with the full support and budget of their label behind them, you had all the reason to believe this could be something really special, from veterans well over twenty years in the industry. Could they pull it off?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 13, 2016 (VIDEO)

As I said, better late than never.

Next up, Dream Theater - stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

video review: 'nine track mind' by charlie puth (ft. ARTV), I couldn't do this on my own. I needed some help here.

And yeah, Billboard BREAKDOWN is going to run a little late. Computer issues on my end, plus feeling absolutely drained from work isn't helping either. Either way, Dream Theater is coming up too, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 13, 2016

So you know how I've been predicting things were going to get seriously unstable on the Hot 100 for a while now? Well, we've got a big one this week - major shifts in the Top 10 including a new number one, a ton of major shifts up and down, and a big crop of new entries... a shame more of them aren't better, but we'll get to that. Of course, Billboard also exacerbated the situation with a choice to shift their chart formula to better temper the impact of streaming, which they did by slightly shifting the balance in favour of sales. So how did that turn out?

video review: 'hymns' by bloc party

Man, this review was insanely hard to get through. So glad I'm past it...

Next up, well, Billboard BREAKDOWN of course, but plus I've got a little something special on the way, so stay tuned!

Monday, February 1, 2016

album review: 'hymns' by bloc party

You know, if we're looking for a way to categorize indie music in the 2000s, especially the early-to-mid 2000s, it would be the slew of indie bands who blew the world open with borderline classic debut albums and yet couldn't never really recapture the magic throughout the rest of the decade. Of course, it's all a manner of degree, but in the widespread public consciousness, acts like The Killers or Franz Ferdinand or The Strokes or Interpol were never able to really match the lightning in the bottle that was their debut.

And in 2005, that band was Bloc Party. I've gone back to relisten to Silent Alarm and it remains one of the best indie rock records of the 2000s, with a relentlessly tight construction, a fantastic sense of momentum, and lyrics that could match that visceral tension. And then for the rest of the decade, Bloc Party couldn't seem to match it, pivoting towards underwhelming but still pretty solid electronics for A Weekend In The City to the more riotously electronic Intimacy, which I'd argue wasn't quite as consistently good but had stronger highpoints like the absolutely amazing 'Zephyrus'.

So after that, they took four years off, came back with a return to their roots on Four... and look, if they were trying to imitate Silent Alarm, it wasn't working. The heavier guitars didn't have the same sense of tightness or tempo or groove, the production wasn't as sharp, and it felt most like a band trying desperately to recapture what came naturally years earlier. But the roots of that might have run deeper - the band was unstable, and both the drummer and bassist left the band in the following two years. Fortunately they were able to pull together new members - including Justin Harris of Menomena, which was definitely a positive sign - but then the lead-off single 'The Love Within' happened. And while you could see traces of what Bloc Party were in the multi-tracked vocals and percussion, those blocky oscillating keyboards just smothered any tightness the song might have and sure as hell were not a replacement for guitars! In other words, I didn't know what to expect with this, so what did we get with Hymns?