Wednesday, March 30, 2016

video review: 'hella personal film festival' by open mike eagle & paul white

So this album is fantastic. Again, bit of a hot streak with pretty damn solid records to make up for how slow this year started. I'm enthused, so let's check out that Cobalt record next - stay tuned!

album review: 'hella personal film festival' by open mike eagle & paul white

Well, this is a bit awkward.

See, those who have followed me for the past few years know that I covered Open Mike Eagle's Dark Comedy in 2014 - so much so that it landed on my year end list of my favourite records of that years at #3. And really, that record gets better every single time I hear it: a glitchy, frequently funny, often heartbreaking hip-hop record with so much unique wordplay and thought-provoking ideas that it showed Open Mike Eagle at the top of his game.

And yet even though I really loved that project, I kind of missed both of the projects he dropped in 2015. The first is a little more explainable - A Special Episode Of was an EP, I don't normally cover EPs, and while I did hear it and thought it was really solid, it wasn't really something that captured my attention in the same way Dark Comedy did, and I've always felt that Open Mike Eagle's thoughts are best expressed on fully formed albums rather than short form. The second project is a little less explicable - a collaboration with Serengeti under the name Cavanaugh, something that just slid through the cracks at the end of the year with mostly positive reviews.

But I'm not missing out this time and even though this is also a collaboration project, it strikes me as a little more of a traditional Open Mike Eagle project, as Paul White is a UK-based producer known for working with Danny Brown that handles the majority of the production here. And considering the sound was reportedly more sample driven and soulful - and yet of course still containing that glitchiness you'd expect from Open Mike Eagle that seems to characterize his anxious neuroses - I wondered how well a greater focus on melody would complement Open Mike Eagle's occasionally sing-song rapping cadence. Either way, a blend of old-school sounds and progressive hip-hop is right up my alley, so I dug deep into Hella Personal Film Festival - what did I get?

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

Well, that was a quick week. Next up, Open Mike Eagle - got a lot to say here, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 9, 2016

So one thing I've noticed is that Billboard BREAKDOWN has tended to attract the most conversation and arguments of my material, mostly because it refers to the mainstream and songs that everyone knows and hears day by day. So when I looked at the the majority of our new arrivals and our new top ten entries, I almost threw up my hands. I mean, Meghan Trainor is back in the top ten and Iggy Azalea has returned to the charts, I should tell you all to have fun, keep it as civil as possible, get up, and walk away, especially considering I've had... let's say controversial opinions about both artists that'll leave nobody happy.

Monday, March 28, 2016

video review: 'mind of mine' by zayn

Well, this was a fascinating listen. Took a little longer to get out than I wanted, but Easter happened, you know.

Next up, Open Mike Eagle, but first we got Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'mind of mine' by zayn

Kind of amazing how history repeats itself, isn't it?

Well, not directly, of course, but we've been down this road before, nearly fifteen years ago. The boy band now facing the difficult shift of the pop culture landscape away from pop and towards R&B, with a clear stand out talent looking to go solo and thus achieve a level of fame and success the rest of the band could only dream about. It'd be a choice made with the reassurances that the boy band wasn't really dead and they'd pull things together again... only deep down, you knew that if the solo album was a smash, there was no going back.

But there are a few fairly important differences between the story of Justin Timberlake and Zayn Malik, the first being that while N'Sync folded very quickly after JT's departure, One Direction managed to push out one more release that actually didn't show a huge dropoff in quality. Furthermore, if you had asked anyone two years ago who the breakout star from One Direction was going to be, I don't think anyone would have said Zayn. Everyone's eyes were on Harry Styles, the guy who had dated Taylor Swift and who was the most immediately recognizable face of the group. Hell, even if you dug through the liner notes Zayn would still not be the easy choice - it wasn't like he was the prolific songwriter like JT was, quietly cowriting most of the band's biggest hits, that honour would probably go to Liam.

And yet of the inevitable stream of solo albums, Zayn was the first to the punch - and not only that, he beat out his bandmates with a #1 single, something they didn't even manage to achieve. Like Justin before him, he was remaking his image into something sleek and openly sexual - and believe it or not, I'm planning on taking this seriously. Even though Zayn is a very different performer than JT was - and I'm honestly not convinced he's better - this project doesn't immediately strike me as a studio cash grab. For one, there was reportedly a track where Zayn sang in Urdu, referencing his Pakistani heritage and spirituality for a defiantly unique move in modern pop/R&B, especially in the mainstream. His only guest star is Kehlani, a R&B singer you might recognize from one of her critically acclaimed mixtapes or the last Pusha T album, but again, not really a commercial move. At the very least, this promised to be an interesting listen, so I dug into Mind Of Mine - what did we get?

Friday, March 25, 2016

video review: 'southern family' by dave cobb & various artists

You know, if I don't find another record that matches this, it'll be a compilation record that'll be my album of the year. Weird, but I'm kind of down with that - mostly because it quite literally is that goddamn amazing. Chills everytime, man.

Next up... well, might as well deal with Zayn, so stay tuned!

album review: 'southern family' by dave cobb & various artists

This has easily been my most anticipated record of 2016. And to explain why, we need to go back to 1978 and an independent country release called White Mansions. Written by singer-songwriter Paul Kennerley, it was the rarest sort of release in country music: a narrative-driven concept album containing multiple artists each playing a distinctive part. This was in the height of the outlaw movement, and as such recruited artists like John Dillon, Steve Cash, Jessi Colter, and Waylon Jennings himself, even pulling on Eric Clapton to play guitar on a few tracks. And while the tighter budget definitely shows at a few points, the ambition was unmistakable: this was the story of the Civil War from the South's point-of-view, but pulled zero punches about the roots of the conflict and the deep, lingering scars left on the American psyche, especially in the South. I can say bluntly that the political fallout would make such a record impossible to make today - and I can say without hyperbole that it is a classic country album, and if you're lucky enough to find a copy, I can't recommend it highly enough.

So why is any of this relevant? Well, if you've been watching the resurgence of outlaw country around the edges of Nashville, you shouldn't even be surprised. Over the past two to three years and the increasingly sterile and meat-headed modern country scene, the independent country scene has expanded like never before. Part of this is the rise of the Internet allowing local acts to gain groundswell, but at the epicenter is one incredibly gifted producer whose hands have touched most of the best country records of the past several years: Dave Cobb. Now I've raved about this guy a number of times on my channel - and if you know his production background you'll understand why - but what you probably don't know is his work behind the scenes, becoming the new caretaker of the legendary Studio A in Nashville and establishing his own publishing imprint, which gives him the ability to foster greater talent. Of course, it's also helped matters that he's produced some of the biggest indie country albums of the past few years, from Sturgill Simpson to Jason Isbell, from Lindi Ortega to the Grammy-winning debut album from Chris Stapleton.

And all of this has given him the clout and budget to pursue the sort of passion project country fans don't dare to dream about: a concept record inspired by White Mansions with the sort of line-up that would seem impossible. Let's run through the list: Jason Isbell, Chris and Morgane Stapleton, Jamey Johnson, Brandy Clark, Holly Williams, Brent Cobb, Anderson East, Shooter Jennings, John Paul White formerly of the Civil Wars, Rich Roberson of the Black Crowes, and not to completely exclude the mainstream, Zac Brown and Miranda Lambert. This is an Ayreon project for country music from one of the best producers in the industry, which meant that while this is my most anticipated project of 2016, it was also the one where I had the highest of expectations - could Dave Cobb pull this off?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

video review: 'imperial' by denzel curry

Man, this turned out pretty solid. Really dug it, just hope it's going to stick with me.

Next up... okay, I think I'm ready for Southern Family, so stay tuned!

album review: 'imperial' by denzel curry

You know, if I go back through my hip-hop reviews over the past few years, I've tended to notice a trend of which I'm certain many of you find exasperating: that even when the flows are good and can connect, if the actual lyrical content doesn't come through in the same way I tend to be a little more harsh. A$AP Rocky, The Game, Logic, Future, Drake, you get the general picture - these guys can flow, but if the content gets recycled or doesn't stand out, I don't tend to connect as strongly. Hell, even though I liked the Flatbush Zombies debut, I'm well-aware that without stronger, unique content, I might not come back to it in the same way. And for once I know exactly why that is: for one, while I like a good hook, when you hear so much music throughout the course of a year, the hooks really have to have strong melodic backdrop or real punch to really stick with me long term. Same with flows: I've heard so many cadences and methods of delivery that only the most distinctive and impressive stick with me - and yet when we come to content, it's not just reliant on pure technical craftsmanship to impress me and taps into a different part of my focus. To put it another way, if you give me a rap song with creative metaphors or really makes me think, I'll probably remember it a lot more than just the newest banger.

This takes us to Denzel Curry, a Miami rapper who is known for some insane, well-constructed flows and some weird, borderline-chiptune inspired hardcore production, but always grabbed me were his blend of raw and visceral gangsta storytelling and a reference pool that could dip into geekier subjects without sounding all that corny. And while I didn't love his debut album Nostalgic 64 - I thought it dropped off in quality on the final third despite having some potent tracks - when I heard his follow-up Imperial this year was going to be tighter, more concise, and even more hard-hitting, I prepared myself for an aggressively potent experience - did I get it?

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

This week... yeah, I had more fun than usual making this, definitely a good week.

Next up, I need more time for Southern Family, so might as well cover Denzel Curry first, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 2, 2016

I've said a number of times in the past that there are deceptive weeks on the Hot 100 - and this is one of them. Sure, only one intrusion to the top ten that everyone saw coming, and only five new songs... but if you take a look at the shifts within the chart, the momentarily lull that comes with Easter disguises some changes that reflects the instability bubbling around the edges. It's coming, folks, give it one week and a surprise release and everything blows up, mark my words.

Monday, March 21, 2016

video review: 'all my demons greeting me as a friend' by aurora

As I said, better than expected. Not great, probably will be forgotten in a week or two, but generally alright, I guess.

Next up... man, I need more time for Denzel Curry and Southern Family... so it's a good thing Billboard BREAKDOWN is up next, so stay tuned!

album review: 'all my demons greeting me as a friend' by aurora

You ever have those artists where you get a glimpse of the cover art and read up on the buzz or reviews and before you hear a second of their music, you immediately have an impression or expectation of what they're going to sound like?

Oh, don't act like I'm the only one here, or that it's not a human reaction, especially if the artist exists in modern pop music. Like it or not, unless you are on the avant-garde or the sort of artist who breaks genre with every album - and those artists do exist in pop music, let's be real here - most modern pop eventually falls along the line of a trend. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that - just because something is trendy doesn't automatically make it bad - but it can be predictable. And this is where as a music critic that can get complicated, as we're used to seeing trends come in and out and we're not always grabbed by the presumption of 'novelty'. So when I hear buzz suggesting a new mainstream-accessible artist is 'changing the sound' or is 'so revolutionary', I'm quick to be skeptical because I've seen and heard this before, more than ever in the age of the Internet. But the key thing to note is that audiences, particularly younger audiences, don't always have the frame of reference - and that can be fine, if the audience is willing to trace the artistic lineage of the music. And what frustrates me is when that doesn't happen - when people praised Kanye as a revolutionary after Yeezus while dismissing Death Grips, for an easy example. 

My overall point is that when I first started hearing the buzz behind Aurora, a Norwegian pop singer-songwriter, I had the sinking feeling I knew what I was getting. Oh great, another vaguely foreign indie pop starlet who is just weird enough to appear outside the mainstream while fitting very much within it with subject matter that is 'so deep' but really never goes beyond pop platitudes, I think I've been down this road before. That said, Aurora didn't seem like the sort of studio creation disguising itself as indie pop that you occasionally see, and with the main writing credits on every song, she could very well be a distinctive voice, so I decided to take all of you up on the requests and dig into All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend by Aurora - what did I get?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

video review: 'how to dance' by mount moriah

Oh man, I wanted to like this so much more... eh, it happens. Sometimes it clicks, sometimes it doesn't.

Next up... well, Denzel Curry is there, but I kind of want to cover that AURORA record... we'll see, so stay tuned!

album review: 'how to dance' by mount moriah

So it's been a while since I've made any statements about how online publications cover country music, mostly because after the bro-country bubble burst it's left a fascinating aftermath. On the one hand, most of the mainstream remains tacitly ignored unless they're interesting, have hype, or it's a really slow reviews week. And really, you could say the exact same thing for the indie scene, which is a little exasperating but kind of understandable. Read through the list of writers on Pitchfork or the AV Club that cover country and you'll see a short list of names indeed, and even then they're going to the NPR-approved, higher profile indie names over anyone else. Which I suppose makes sense - you've got to maintain your indie cred and traffic figures somehow - but it also means there comes to be a set 'sound' of indie country acts that'll get critical examination and little else, sometimes so far to the fringe of folk or rock that indie country sites won't even cover them.

Case in point, Mount Moriah. Fronted by Heather McEntire formerly of the post-punk group Bellefea joining with guitarist Jenks Miller of Horseback - a band known like Panopticon for blending Americana with black metal - it's not at all surprising most of the indie country scene ignored their self-titled debut and followup Miracle Temple, which were country-touched Americana drenched in rougher folk rock tones. Oh, and they're both excellent, held up by some great hooks, thought-provoking writing, and Heather McEntire's excellent and expressive delivery. But it's been three years and now Mount Moriah are back with reportedly their most outright country record to date, so everyone is now out of excuses. And while I'm a little late to the punch, it's not like anyone else has covered this band on YouTube - ever - so I dug into How To Dance. Did it live up to expectations?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

video review: '3001: a laced odyssey' by flatbush zombies

Man, I wish I had liked this album more... eh, it happens. Good, not great.

Next up... whoa, suddenly my schedule filled up fast, so let's see if I can finally finish this Mount Moriah review before Denzel Curry and so many more - stay tuned!

album review: '3001: a laced odyssey' by flatbush zombies

I don't tend to cover many mixtapes, if I do at all.

And believe it or not, I actually have my reasons. I do recognize that some artists - especially in hip-hop - will release some great work on mixtapes, and that if you're not on top of the mixtape scene, you can fall behind on who has buzz, especially in the Internet age. Now that's not saying I don't occasionally listen to mixtapes that get sent my way, but if I covered every tape that gets dropped or sent to me, I wouldn't be covering any other genres besides hip-hop. And let's be brutally honest: while you can argue that there are a few artists who defined or redefined their best work on tapes, the majority use them as a cheap stopgap to drive buzz in an industry where hype is more fleeting than ever before. That's why I have a lot of respect for artists who might drop less records and overall projects, but the ratio of quality tracks to filler or garbage is more consistent.

But what this has meant is that while I've heard about Flatbush Zombies, a New York hip-hop trio out of Brooklyn affiliated with The Underachievers and Pro Era, known for a kooky style of flow and delivery that careens through smoky production with bars that manage to stick more than I expected, I hadn't really explored many of their projects in detail beyond a few singles. And while they had a few mixtapes and that collaboration EP with The Underachievers, 2015 had been a very quiet year for the Flatbush Zombies, which made the announcement about this record probably more of a surprise than it should have been, at least for me. But I figured now was as good of a time as any to dig in, so what did I get?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 26, 2016 (VIDEO)

It was better, but Lord only know that when Ariana comes in next week where the charts will take us - there's too much instability at the top to hold for long.

Regardless, Flatbush Zombies coming tonight, then probably going to finally cover that Mount Moriah or Denzel Curry... and then coming up this weekend is one of my most anticipated projects of this year, so definitely stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 26, 2016

So I get the feeling that the universe saw the charts last week, wondered how the hell they could let that much concentrated awful pile up, and sprung into action to correct it. And as a result... okay, it wasn't amazing, but definitely a major improvement. And while I knew Kendrick was going to land a few songs - thankfully enough to compensate for Meghan Trainor - I didn't expect that we'd also get hits from Jake Owen and Shakira, two of the most naturally charismatic performers in the past fifteen years, so we're bound to get an upswing, right?

Monday, March 14, 2016

video review: 'varmints' by anna meredith

Holy God, this review was so damn difficult to write, but so worth it, fantastic release.

Next up, Flatbush Zombies... but of course, Billboard BREAKDOWN first, so stay tuned!

album review: 'varmints' by anna meredith

So on the topic of musical genres I've been neglecting, I haven't covered as much electronic music as I'd like this year. And again, I wouldn't say all of this is my fault - there hasn't been any records from that space in 2016 where the hype has blown me out of the water, outside of that Kygo record that keeps getting delayed. So I figured I'd go back into the indie scene to find something...

And here's where we hit a bit of a snag. See, there's been some buzz surrounding the long-awaited debut album from British producer and composer Anna Meredith, who has performed alongside James Blake and who has been making big splashes in music over the past ten years... in classical music. And this makes more sense than you'd expect - in recent years there has been a surprising amount of crossover between classical music and the electronic scene, especially on the avant-garde where melodic experimentation is much more prevalent. 

And here's where I have to confess that despite having a classical background in theory and piano, the more I delve into classical music and opera the more I keep discovering how woefully incomplete my knowledge is. That's one reason I've always shied away from covering more jazz records - as much as I'm coming to like and appreciate it, I feel there is so much more history and albums I need to absorb before I can consider myself a credible critic of that genre. I'll confess to having a little more knowledge built up over the past two years with electronic music, but I didn't expect Anna Meredith to make things easy - this is a woman who has written operas and orchestral arrangements, if she was going into electronic music, we could be getting some out-there material.

But might as well have a challenge, so I dug into her debut album Varmints - what did we get?

video review: 'mystical future' by wildernessking

Goddamn, I need to keep remember to cross-post the video to here, this is happening more than it should.

Okay, (finally) Anna Meredith and Flatbush Zombies, so stay tuned!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

album review: 'mystical future' by wildernessking

So one of my personal resolutions for this year is that I'd make time to cover more black metal I found a lot to really like last year and Panopticon's Autumn Eternal landed on my year end list for my top albums of 2015...

And thus far, I've been failing miserably. To be somewhat fair to myself, it's not like I've seen or heard about much in this genre that's gotten waves of critical acclaim - my general sources have been pretty dry here - but I also don't think I've put in enough due diligence to cover the acts that have gotten a little hype. So as before with Vallendusk, I looked up the one guy I trust on YouTube to mention some interesting black metal - that'd be Myke C-Town - and saw that he had covered the sophomore release from South African band Wildernessking, so after seeing how much praise their 2012 debut The Writing Of Gods In The Sand received, I decided to give it a shot.

And wow, I'm glad I did. I'll admit I don't always have the best frame of references when it comes to black metal and I can't quite say I was immediately wowed by Wildernessking as I was by the insane riffing of Vallendusk or the genre-bending of Panopticon or the weird avant-garde tendencies of Wolves In The Throne Room or the progressive touches of In The Woods..., but there was something subtle about Wildernessking that really sucked me in. Atmospheric touches that recall post-rock, riffing and grooves that had touches of post-hardcore but still had enough grime and intensity to fit within black metal, and enough focus on melody to really stick with me. Plus - and I'll wholeheartedly admit it's inconsequential but a great touch regardless - they actually posted their lyrics, which considering how deeply they buried their vocals was a real plus. So with the knowledge that their sophomore album was going to be going even harder, I picked up Mystical Future, looking forward to five songs of blisteringly potent black metal - did I get it?

video review: 'untitled unmastered' by kendrick lamar

Well, this turned out better than expected. Then again, it's Kendrick, so go figure.

Next up, I think I need to talk about some black metal, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

album review: 'untitled unmastered.' by kendrick lamar

Let's talk a little bit about performance art, and Kendrick Lamar specifically.

Now I don't think anyone can deny, even if you're not a Kendrick Lamar fan, that he hasn't made a considerable impact in modern hip-hop, and not just on record. Indeed, one thing that has always stood out for me is how strong a live performer he is, bringing the same sort of visceral energy he has on record into some pretty potent songs with impressive stagecraft. To put it another way, very few artists would ever dare to perform a song as visceral as 'The Blacker The Berry' at the Grammys. You could easily make the argument that Kendrick takes his live performances as opportunities to craft unique and incendiary artistic statements outside of just the music, showing a rare gift for theater that I really appreciate.

And nowhere is that more apparent than the 'untitled' series. For those of you who aren't aware, through a series of live shows Kendrick has been slipping in tracks that nobody recognized from any album. They had no name or recorded version, the only time you could hear them was if you found a live video - in other words, the definition of modern performance art. And while I doubted they were free-form pieces that Kendrick was coming up with off the top of his head mid-performance, they were very much unique in their presentation, to the point where it might have been inevitable for them to be bundled and sold eventually, I almost didn't want it. There's something intangible in the live spontaneity of the performance that felt truly special, and to put it on wax... well, would the energy be the same, would they have the same magic?

Well, now it's time to test that theory, because out of nowhere Kendrick released a surprise record called untitled unmastered containing eight of these mysterious unnamed tracks, and because it's Kendrick Lamar, everyone online lost their minds. To me, I had significantly lower expectations - not just that these might not capture the spark of performance, but might just end up being a collection of glorified b-sides not good enough to land on To Pimp A Butterfly or good kid, MAAD city. Was I right?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 19, 2016 (VIDEO)

Ugh, this week really blew. God, I hope that next week gets better with Kendrick, 'cause this was rough.

But speaking of Kendrick... well, stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

video review: 'mottherboard' by lmno

I'm amazed how well this album turned out. Again, I shouldn't be, but still, for a first time producer even with some help from DVINE1, LMNO nailed this. Definitely want to hear more, this was great.

Next up... oh, okay, I'll talk Kendrick after Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 19, 2016

So remember last year when there was a major push behind songs that were linked to the Academy Awards and John Legend and Common rode 'Glory' to some reasonable chart success? Yeah, this year served as the rebuttal to that on the charts, because while the Academy Awards had some impact on the Hot 100, they didn't nearly have as much impact as last year, mostly because 'Writing On The Wall' has been generally panned by everyone except the Academy. But much like everyone else, I'm choosing to ignore Sam Smith and that song... but unfortunately the option is instead to focus on this week, and yikes, it's been a while since I've seen things this bad. Strap in, folks, this gets ugly.

Monday, March 7, 2016

album review: 'motherboard' by lmno

Those of you who follow this channel know that I'm a fan of LMNO - or at least you'd assume that, given how many times I've covered him in detail. This will be my fifth review of one of his projects, and while for many artists that might encompass their entire career, LMNO is the sort of guy who will continue to push out records at frankly an alarming rate. Hell, back in 2010 he released ten albums in one year with a variety of different producers - at some point, I'm amazed he hasn't run out of ideas or things to say, because he's not the kind of guy to make it easy on listeners either, thanks to off-beat lyricism, high-concept songs, and a vocal tone and delivery which some have described as a little monotonous but also has emotive subtleties I think are underappreciated.

But there's one thing LMNO has not done in his years of releasing underground records, and that is produce an album himself - and let's make this clear, taking that additional step is a big one. Sure, you'd think that a veteran MC would know the best beats he could flow over - and let's be honest, I'm fairly certain LMNO could flow over anything - but production is an acquired skill. Most people with the right tools can structure a beat, but speaking as someone who once tried to produce an album, pairing a beat with a good melody and then the production to feel cohesive and not sound like absolute ass is a goddamn art and is so much harder than it looks or sounds. As much as I've ragged on producers like DJ Mustard or Mike Will Made It or Jay Joyce, I'm not going to deny how difficult good production is.

So I had reason to be worried when I heard that LMNO was going to be producing his newest album himself, called Motherboard, but I was intrigued, especially because word was it was going to be more electronic and experimental, mostly influenced by fellow underground artist DVINE1, with minimal samples and more live instrumentation. So even if this was going to be a disaster, it sounded like the sort of experimental risk that I've been wanting LMNO to take for years now, so you can bet I was covering it - did it work?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

video review: '99¢' by santigold

Well, this took entirely too long to come out. Still a solid record, but it really did require a lot to get done.

Next up, probably Kendrick or LMNO - or both, if I have time. Stay tuned!

album review: '99¢' by santigold

So here's a piece of an argument that I really can't stand: 'well, it's better because he or she did it first', the idea that something is inherently superior because the creator might have been the one to imagine or realize it before anyone else. I get the principle behind this argument - you could argue that building off an established sound requires less work than inventing something brand new - but it can also discount when an artist takes an established foundation in a direction that even the originator never could.

In the case of Santigold, however, it might be one of the rare cases when you can see the ripple effects of her music spanning the past several years of pop music, where she was just ahead of the punch. She started off as the frontwoman of the punk band Stifled, which released two albums in the mid-2000s, but by the time she dropped her solo debut Santogold in 2008, you'd never know, as it blew through synthpop, reggae, and much of the electronic textures that would come to dominate mainstream pop for the next five years. The immediate and most common comparison is M.I.A., but I found Santigold much more likable, partially because she has a great grasp of melody and tightness in her writing, and partially because her writing had a deft touch that might not be as vibrantly scattershot as M.I.A., but ultimately felt more cohesive and considered. Now I found that debut to be pretty uneven at points - and yet when she came back with Master Of My Make-Believe in 2012, I'd argue it's one of the best pop records of that year. The writing and grooves were so well-realized, balancing electronic and organic amazingly well, it was an album that won me over fast, even if I do think the energy fades a bit in the final tracks.

So in other words, after four years of being out of the spotlight, and with the knowledge that Santigold has the sort of forward-thinking production that could take her in a fascinating direction, I was definitely on board here. So what do we get on 99¢?

Friday, March 4, 2016

video review: 'i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it' by the 1975

I'm amazed this review hasn't been torn to shreds yet, even though it is more positive. Ah well, goes to serve what my presumptions will be.

Next up... probably Santigold or LMNO or Mount Moriah... but who am I kidding, that Kendrick release is definitely coming, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 12, 2016 (VIDEO)

Well, this is a late post - late episode too, but that's what happens when your software craps out. Oh well.

Next up, the 1975... well, the video that is.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

album review: 'i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful and yet so unaware of it' by the 1975

There's been a thinkpiece making its rounds on a few music websites questioning the continued viability of the album review, or at least the written album review. Where it was once something that could influence audiences or artists or even drive sales, many major publications have seen in the rise of the internet consumers who care less about critics and more about being guided by their own taste, the democracy of public opinion. Now this is very much a mixed blessing: on the one hand it's seen the embrace and re-analysis of pop music, giving real critical consideration to what was usually derided... but you could also argue that unless the critic has a large enough following, it's not going to help the independent, weirder acts that used to rely on a review to break out. What's more concerning is that it's seen the lines between criticism and promotion blur, especially when sites and channels rely on hits to stay afloat, and it's also led me as a critic to reassess what my role as a critic can be. And in this case, it's twofold: operating as a filter to all the acts I hear throughout the year, especially in my recommendations; and providing as much in-depth analysis as I can to improve the quality of individual reviews. 

And yet no act has so divided traditional critics and the general public as The 1975, and I think I can explain why. When I covered their debut album in 2013, I was like many critics in identifying their blatant 80s influences and self-aware self-absorption that was balanced on the edge of emo - in other words, shallow, derivative, and kind of insufferable. And yet I was also like a lot of their diefans in not really caring all that much, or at least more able to relate, mostly because the group had a gift for gleaming, slightly offkilter riff-driven hooks, great basslines and saxophone, with a distinctive vocal delivery from Matthew Healy and lyrics that had a surprising amount of insight if you read between the lines. In other words, I thought their debut was a real slice of greatness, and while their social media shenanigans got a little tiresome - along with a title for the new album that stank of emo pretension - I figured what the hell and dove into The 1975's sophomore record, which from the hype and lead-off single was reportedly weirder and more colourful than their sleek debut. What did we get?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 12, 2016

I've said before there are certain weeks on the Hot 100 that are deceptive, appear quieter than they actually are because nothing seems to be really shaking up the top. And hell, it'd almost make sense, the week between the Grammys and Academy Awards, nothing really exploded here, right? Well, not quite, because if you delve deeper you'll find a fair few big shifts and dropouts, setting the stage for what could be the new songs of spring to flood in coming weeks.