Monday, October 31, 2016

video review: 'cosmic hallelujah' by kenny chesney

So this completely blew. Seriously, I was thinking about skipping this but when I discovered how completely awful it was, I needed to deal with it. Also probably guarantees I'll never talk about a Kenny Chesney record again, but whatever.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN and probably Avenged Sevenfold... maybe a chance to knock an album or two out of my backlog too, so stay tuned!

album review: 'cosmic hallelujah' by kenny chesney

I don't think I've entirely been fair to Kenny Chesney.

Granted, there's a limit to how fair one way or another I can be about this guy, because for as long as he's been a consistent presence in country, he's not exactly been an artist that sparks a lot of attention, critical or otherwise, even despite a considerable number of hits. Outside of your average Jimmy Buffett fan club, I don't see many country fans in the mainstream or otherwise saying their favourite artist is Kenny Chesney - hell, he's got a crossover 'hit' right now with an artist I otherwise like and yet I can't really be bothered to care about it all that much - it's breezy, lightweight material, often at the beach, the sort of sedentary music that flows in one ear and right out the other.

So when I started getting requests to cover this... well, suffice to say I didn't have high expectations. I may have been overly harsh to Kenny Chesney's last record The Big Revival, which did have a few songs that ended up growing a bit on me in time, but I wasn't holding out a lot of hope for Cosmic Hallelujah. For one, the lead-off single was 'Noise', the sort of non-country track complete with some of the most gratuitous pitch-correction I've ever heard in the genre - whatever that song was, it certainly reflected a change in instrumental direction, perhaps even a point where Kenny Chesney had decided he wanted to blaze his own experimental trail! And while a part of me had no expectations this was going to work well at all - he's only got two writing credits on this release - I will admit that it's a bit of an interesting spectacle to watch Kenny Chesney, seventeen albums into his career, decide to venture out of an extremely well worn comfort zone? So okay, what does this mean for Cosmic Hallelujah?

video review: 'lady wood' by tove lo

Well, this was definitely a real disappointment. Certainly was hoping from more from this record, but instead... well, misgivings were proven correct.

And on that unfortunate note, Kenny Chesney is next (because I still need more time for Avenged Sevenfold), so stay tuned!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

album review: 'lady wood' by tove lo

I've had a sinking feeling about this record for the past few weeks now. And believe me, I definitely haven't wanted that, but the misgivings about this record started coming out early and haven't really stopped. 

See, when I first heard Tove Lo in 2014, I was pretty impressed with her debut Queen Of The Clouds. Not a great pop album, but I saw buckets of potential from a fairly smart songwriter with a knack for pop nuance and good hooks. And coupled with a forceful and surprisingly layered performance, I thought Tove Lo could easily build herself a potent pop career and give most of her contemporaries some serious competition. And for a while it seemed like she had some momentum: 'Habits (Stay High)' was huge, 'Talking Body' was a very respectable follow-up, and 'Close', her collaboration with Nick Jonas, grew on me a fair bit. And I really liked Tove Lo's artistic persona: wild, reckless, she pushed her lyrics into some dark territory, even if on some level you wished she could take as many chances with her instrumentation and production, or that her lyrics didn't always show the self-awareness to elevate the flagrant irresponsibility, add more subtext.

But while I initially dug her lead-off single 'Cool Girl', with everything else I learned about her sophomore project the more concerned I got, starting with the incredibly on-the-nose album title. Coupled with the fact that she had kept the same production team and the biggest guest star on this record was Wiz Khalifa, plus the fact that she was going for a double album concept on a record that didn't even crack forty minutes...hate to say it, but it rang as trying too hard to shock or grab people's attention. And sure, that's her prerogative and I generally like that forceful personality, but her lack of greater subtlety meant the play to greater sexuality felt all the more brazen... and while many of her younger fans might not remember, I'm familiar with what happened to Madonna in the early 90s - eventually if you try too hard to shock in this lane, people don't get surprised in the same way.

But maybe I'm being too harsh here, maybe there was a place for Tove Lo's directness in 2016, so I took a long hard look at Lady Wood - what did I find?

Friday, October 28, 2016

video review: 'integrity blues' by jimmy eat world

And that's two for tonight. Whew, this went down a lot easier than I expecting, really quite pleased with it too. Did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did, that's for sure...

And next up, Tove Lo and... well, this Avenged Sevenfold record is bound to be interesting, I suppose... stay tuned!

album review: 'integrity blues' by jimmy eat world

Of the albums I was expecting that I'd eventually cover this year, a new record from Jimmy Eat World was not one of them.

And to be completely honest, I'm not entirely sure why that is, probably not helped that I'm pretty divided on the group as a whole. I've always considered the band something of a mess of contradictions: the lyrics treading right up to the line of emo with frontman Jim Adkins tending to underplay his delivery... paired with instrumentation that went straight for power pop and never turned back, most of which led to songs that had swell and impact instrumentally but weren't always well matched by their content. It was always a balancing act for me with Jimmy Eat World - at their best, they hit anthemic rock beats that could match the broader scope of their writing, or managed to precisely nail a sweet spot that would make them influential in emo throughout the next decade. 

Granted, by emo standards Jimmy Eat World were never great songwriters - Say Anything never had anything to worry about - which is why I tended to like their more anthemic stabs like Futures and Chase The Light a fair bit more than most, and am willing to forgive some parts of Invented. But 2013's Damage was a frustrating listen, an attempt to go 'back to basics' with their scope and sound, and ditching Mark Trombino's production to do it left with middling results at best - not a bad album, but certainly not one anybody remembered. But there's a part of me that was kind of curious about their album this year Integrity Blues, mostly because they were working with Justin Meldel-Johnsen on production - and even though I've definitely come down hard on his production work in the past, he has injected more personality into his work and that could be a good fit for Jimmy Eat World, who as a band I've always thought could use a little more flash. So okay, how as Integrity Blues?

video review: 'yes lawd!' by nxworries (anderson .paak & knxwledge)

This review took me a lot longer than I had expected - I've probably listened to the record a dozen times, but it just took a while to really come to any concrete opinion... just one of those things, I guess.

Beyond that, I've got the Jimmy Eat World review on deck, so stay tuned!

album review: 'yes lawd!' by nxworries (anderson .paak & knxwledge)

So I think I've gone on record a number of times by this point how 2016 has been a bit of a dud in terms of popular music, especially hip-hop, showcasing established MCs underperform and a whole load of talentlessness get recognized for no damn good reason. But I think what's made this all the more frustrating is that, well, it didn't have to be this way - it could have been more than just Chance The Rapper who has carried the torch from the underground with real quality, and the lack of recognition for mainstream-ready rappers and performers has been as frustrating if not more so.

And if you want the primary example of that, it's Anderson .Paak. Oh, the critics absolutely adored his early 2016 release Malibu - myself included, that record rules - but it was a summer album released in mid-January, and that probably prevented his music from crossing over more. Because make no mistake, if we can give Lil Yachty, Desiigner, Lil Uzi Vert, and Young Thug careers, Anderson .Paak's material was not so inaccessible that it couldn't do well, especially given how damn catchy and charismatic it was.

But despite making the XXL Freshman list and a few critically acclaimed guest appearances on other albums, it didn't really seem like he was interested playing the game. Instead, he went over to the independent label Stones Throw - most well-known for backing artists and producers like J.Dilla and Madlib - and set up a collaboration with Knxwledge, who is a prolific producer in and of his own right, but is probably most well-known for some production work he did for Kendrick on To Pimp A Butterfly. Together, they formed NxWorries, and while they had dropped a collaborative EP last December, this was a full-length record - not just a mixtape as I had originally thought. And hell, I like both of these guys, this could very well be a fun release, so how is Yes Lawd!?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

video review: 'big baby d.r.a.m.' by d.r.a.m.

Well, this was a lot of fun... but let's face it, any rapper who can make that face while holding an adorable puppy has a good shot with me.

On a different note, NxWorries and Jimmy Eat World soon, so stay tuned!

album review: 'big baby d.r.a.m.' by d.r.a.m.

So I may or may not have said in the past couple reviews that the mainstream Hot 100 has sucked a fair bit in 2016. Sure, it's mostly getting better now but that's a slow process and it sure as hell isn't happening all at once.

But one of the unrelenting bright spots has been the inexplicable success of the breakout single 'Broccoli' by D.R.A.M., Virginia rapper and the sort of immediately recognizable presence that mainstream hip-hop has really been lacking this year. And yet despite how much Lil Yachty nearly ruined that song, D.R.A.M. managed to outshine him - and I mean that beyond just a reflection on skill and personality. No, what D.R.A.M. brought with 'Broccoli' was positivity and energy, no doubt influenced by his association with Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment and especially Chance The Rapper, which is where I've been recognizing him over the past eighteen months. And while there's a part of me that wishes Chance could have gotten to the top first as a more thoughtful MC, if it takes D.R.A.M. to throw the doors open, I'm definitely on board. In other words, I didn't quite know what to expect going into Big Baby D.R.A.M., but I had the feeling it would at least be fun, something that the desaturated monotone of most modern pop could definitely use. Hell, the only other guest stars besides Lil Yachty were Erykah Badu - okay - and Young Thug, and this would be the sort of lush upbeat production that I've been looking for Young Thug to rhyme against for some time now. So no more wasting time, how was Big Baby D.R.A.M.?

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

Well, not a great week, but you can get by on stuff like this. Plus 'False Alarm' came back and that song rules.

Next up, D.R.A.M., so stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 5, 2016

Well, it couldn't last. The past few weeks on Billboard BREAKDOWN, while not perfect, have at least shown a little more potential, but this week shows that crap has its own certain inertia - even though there are some positive signs, a lot of this week feels for every two steps forward we're taking one step back.

Monday, October 24, 2016

video review: 'joanne' by lady gaga

Man, I wish I liked this album a lot more... frustrating, because I know the backlash to this episode will probably be pretty intense. Lovely.

Either way, I've got D.R.A.M. and NxWorries up soon, along with Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'joanne' by lady gaga

I remember when it seemed like for a few brief years, Lady Gaga was the biggest person in pop. She might not have had the most hits or the most critical acclaim, but she sparked conversation by her very presence and how 'weird' and crazy she was.

And here's the thing: she really wasn't all that crazy, even with all the ridiculous rhetoric and outfits. I'm going to make a comparison that at first thought might not seem to make any sense: Lady Gaga reminds me a lot of Eric Church, the maverick country artist who remained within the mainstream but in recent years also built something of a reputation on being 'weird' that's proved hit-and-miss. And again, at least to me it doesn't seem that weird or strange for either of them, mostly because I get their type: they're music nerds, the type of people who study and examine music with an obsessive intensity that tends to alienate the mainstream. Both worked insanely hard at their craft, both wanted to be larger than life and worshiped icons like Springsteen who could pull it off, both were unafraid to cross and blend genres in ways that could be famously messy but nearly always unique, and at their very worst, both made a lot of music that was self-referential to the point of disappearing up their own ass. For Eric Church it was his 2014 record The Outsiders, but for as much as I dislike that album, it wasn't all self-focused myth-making, and he alleviated a lot of that sting by following it with Mr. Misunderstood a year later.

Gaga, on the other hand, made ARTPOP. And look, I don't hate that record nearly as much as some people do - all of her work has been messy, with The Fame Monster being her most consistently strong record, but there have always been some stunning songs along the way. But ARTPOP remains her weakest record, for in trying to commercialize the art aesthetic without capturing the populism or avant-garde experimentation that could have given the album flair, it wound up trying to make more of a statement with attitude than content, and it didn't really get all the way there, not helped by hooks and writing that were far from her best. 

And so ARTPOP disappeared down the collective memory hole of pop fans, Lady Gaga went on to American Horror Story and an album of covers with Tony Bennett and wrote a song that should have won her an Oscar, and now she's finally back with Joanne. From what I had heard of the singles and writing, I was getting the impression this could very well be her Mr. Misunderstood, a tighter refocus on her core strengths as a tremendous performer and artist in her own right. And believe me, folks, I wanted this to be good: I didn't love 'Perfect Illusion' or 'Million Reasons' but 2016 in mainstream pop has sucked so badly that I had to hope Lady Gaga would pull something powerful together, right?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

video review: 'WALLS' by kings of leon

Well, this is bound to be an ugly situation... but then again, I'm not sure how the Kings Of Leon fans will love this, so who knows?

Next up, I need some Anderson .Paak before Lady Gaga, so stay tuned!

album review: 'WALLS' by kings of leon

There's a reason I wanted to do the Blackberry Smoke review before Kings Of Leon. Mostly as an active disclaimer for those who'll say I can't like or appreciate southern or alternative rock because I'm not a Kings Of Leon fan, whereas the reality with Blackberry Smoke is that they transcended the worst tropes of the genre while embracing the best.

Whereas Kings Of Leon is one of those bands that seems to have gotten a pass from the mainstream public for entirely too long for one good song, that being 'Use Somebody'. And yeah, 'Use Somebody' is a good track, but I've now listened to the entire Kings Of Leon discography and trust me when I say they don't have many more. Part of this is because they tend to fall into the bad side of southern rock tropes when it comes to the writing - namely the majority of songs they've ever written about women - and yet don't play this sleaze with the swagger or bravado or even a sense of humor to even make that tolerable. That's part of the larger problem with Kings Of Leon in that they don't really have a distinct identity or intensity as a band - they aren't grounded in roots rock or country enough to completely embrace the southern rock label, they aren't rough-edged enough for punk or hard rock, and I was never impressed by their guitarwork enough to put them up with the anthemic strains of arena rock like U2. Combine that with vocals that could be very hit-and-miss, especially on their earlier albums, their complete sincerity which made their lyrics seem at best tonally inconsistent and at worst horribly self-obsessed, and their bizarre inability to end a lot of their songs properly, and you find a rock band that's too watered down for me to really care about.

Now to be a little fair, there are ingredients of a good group here, especially in the basslines and some of the fast-paced blurry guitar tones, and their 2013 album Mechanical Bull wasn't bad, mostly courtesy of some tighter melodies and a slightly better grasp of melodic songwriting, but a lot of people I otherwise respect were giving their newest album WALLS a fair amount of praise. And while I didn't have high expectations... hey, it couldn't be that bad, right?

video review: 'like an arrow' by blackberry smoke

Man, this was so needed right now - although from the looks of things nearly every record I've given a 9/10 has some link to country, go figure.

On a definitely less likable note, Kings Of Leon up next, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

album review: 'like an arrow' by blackberry smoke

If you saw my Whiskey Myers review about a month or so ago, you knew this was coming. 

Hell, even if you didn't you probably would expect that I'd cover Blackberry Smoke's newest album, especially considering how much I liked their last album Holding All The Roses early last year. The compositions and grooves were tighter, their production was better than ever courtesy of legend Brenden O'Brien, and the lyrics showed the band taking southern rock tropes into fresh new directions that were a little more high concept, especially when the instrumentation got a little more experimental along the way. In short, it was easily Blackberry Smoke's best album to date...

And it also went to #1 on the US Country album charts. This is for a band, I should remind you, with no crossover singles or big radio push, and while you could give some credit to the release not facing huge competition, it also was another sign of the sea change that's been happening in country music, especially on the album charts. And keep in mind they hit #1 after leaving Zac Brown's Southern Ground label - they did this off an independent label, and that says a lot, especially in country. So when you hear that they're planning to follow it up with a record this year that they also produced themselves... well, I'm always cautious about this sort of thing, but I wasn't going to miss it, especially if they could keep up their momentum. So how does Like An Arrow shoot?

video review: 'mad love.' by jojo

I'm more than a little surprised this video has not done better, especially as so many of you were asking about it... eh, it happens.

In the mean time, Blackberry Smoke is coming, so stay tuned!

album review: 'mad love' by jojo

Are we really doing this? Okay, you all asked for it... 

So decades ago a record executive named Sam Phillips made the statement that if he could find a white guy who sang like a black man he could make a million dollars - and he was proven all too right by discovering Elvis. And sure, Elvis was a great singer and made some great music, but let's not pretend he was doing anything that black rock and roll artists hadn't been doing for years. And let's also not pretend this sort of thing has gone away with time - hell, look at the brief moment of success Iggy Azalea got in 2014. Look at how despite Eminem's wise decision to always pay tribute to the greats and his tendency to rip into his own whiteness in hip-hop as a sick joke, there are so many white boys who still consider him one of the greatest rappers of all time - and yeah, before I delved deeper into the genre, I was one of them.

All of this was on my mind a lot when I started getting requests to cover JoJo, and for all of those of you who had a brief flicker of recollection before wondering where the hell you know that artist, let's go back to the mid-2000s. Keep in mind the Billboard charts were in a weird spot in 2004-2006, especially the pop scene which was transitioning from R&B's dominance to whatever might come next. As such, we got the indie rock boom, a brief swell of mid-tempo adult alternative, and in response to this most pop starlets were allowed to develop a bit more of an edge or texture. But R&B was still mostly dominant, so into this scene comes JoJo, a girl who is my age and yet dropped her debut album in 2004, when she and I were both fourteen. And you can tell by the way she was marketed to try and snag that sweet spot between pop and R&B, the teenage white girl that sang like a black girl - hell, she was signed to Blackground Records, one of the labels behind Aaliyah - and make no mistake, it worked. JoJo's self-titled debut album sold five million copies worldwide, and it wasn't because it was good or authentic. Yeah, that's the other unfortunate surprise about revisiting this material, not just because the production and writing have aged pretty badly, but because I didn't find Jojo that interesting or potent of a singer. She had pipes, but a lot of her material felt pretty cheaply produced, which didn't help any authenticity questions.

So okay, that was the mid-2000s - it's been ten years, where has JoJo been? Well, after her follow-up album couldn't produce a single after 'Too Little, Too Late', she finished high school and then spent the next several years fighting with Blackground, which later went out of business. Granted, they gave her a shot with 'Disaster' in 2011 where she went full pop... and eh, both Kelly Clarkson and Demi Lovato were doing this sound better even then, even though it sounded like she had finally grown into her voice. But JoJo was still around - she dropped two mixtapes that picked up a little traction, and when she got picked up by Atlantic she released a few EPs that somehow picked up enough traction for a third album. And you know, in a strange sense it might have helped her to sit out the past ten years of pop - she wouldn't have fit well with the flashier divas of the early 2010s, and I have to admit there's a very small part of me that wouldn't mind seeing her explosive vocals make a comeback. Furthermore, unlike her previous albums she had the main writing credits on this record, and while you wouldn't find many name producers, this was a chance for a fresh start. I'll admit right out of the gate I wasn't interested at all when I started getting a tidal wave of requests, but the research I did got me intrigued, so how is Mad Love?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 29, 2016 (VIDEO)

So this was way too much fun. No joke, I had more fun editing the 'meme' segment of this review than any other time I've edited a video - it was weird and zany and fun, I dug it! Might see more of it if more memes chart, I could do this Fantano homage pretty regularly (and yes, he did give me permission).

Next up, JoJo, and then Blackberry Smoke, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 29, 2016

So this week was weird. I'm not going to say it was a bad week - it definitely wasn't, there's enough quality coming up new that I'm not going to call this precisely bad - but there are both shifts and new arrivals that extend all the way to the top ten that deserve some investigation, so this episode might run long, for as strange as things are...

Monday, October 17, 2016

video review: 'country songs' by karen jonas

Man, I really dug this. Was considering posting this and JoJo tonight, but this album is good and underappreciated enough that I'd prefer to give it the room and appreciation it deserves.

But JoJo and Billboard BREAKDOWN coming up next, so stay tuned!

album review: 'country songs' by karen jonas

I can imagine even if you're a fan of independent country you likely won't recognize this name, especially if you're newer on this channel.

And really, that's a shame, but it's also to be expected. I found Karen Jonas effectively by accident, as her album Oklahoma Lottery was picking up some buzz among critics and pretty much nowhere else. And while I remember being startled when I covered the record in 2014, I'm not all that surprised nowadays, especially given the kind of uncompromising and occasionally bleak material that Jonas wrote. It's the sort of regional, sharp songwriter-driven music that doesn't shy away from telling hard stories, less concerned with the flash you normally see around Nashville and more with the message and presence. Sparsely produced, intense without being overbearing, textured and gritty without playing it as a gimmick, there's a reason why Oklahoma Lottery was one of my favourite albums of 2014, edging out some stiff competition to snag my year end list.

So you can bet in a year full of standout women in country, Karen Jonas' newest record Country Songs was definitely on my radar. Again, I wasn't sure if it was going to be a big breakthrough for her - her sort of grassroots following can be tough to translate, even if she did look to be stepping in with a lighter touch for this album - but hell, I wasn't going to miss this. So in a banner year for country music, how did Country Songs turn out?

video review: 'sorceress' by opeth

I dunno what to say about this one, folks - I'm a little surprised how many people seemed to agree, given how much critical acclaim this record has received, but I guess more people were dissatisfied too...

Anyway, Karen Jonas and JoJo (for some reason) are next, so stay tuned!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

album review: 'sorceress' by opeth

The last time I talked about Opeth, it got complicated. 

And it got complicated for reasons I find more than a little amusing, because for as much as I like progressive rock and metal, to say nothing of the production and mixing talents of multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer Steven Wilson, I found the overall blend of it with Opeth in progressive rock and metal to be a little less inspiring than I liked, especially when I dug into Heritage and the 2014 album I reviewed Pale Communion. Paradoxically, going back through Opeth's discography I found records like the progressive and blackened death metal - a genre of which I'm rarely a fan - of albums like Still Life, Blackwater Park, and the twin release of Deliverance and Damnation. As such, while I like Pale Communion I haven't gone back to it in the same way, especially not in comparison with Steven Wilson's amazing solo project Hand. Cannot. Erase. last year in 2015. Two great tastes that don't always work together, it happens - Steven Wilson did contribute to their more aggressive side on those early 2000s albums, maybe they should have stuck with that instead of going full retro-prog.

But it seems like Opeth themselves were looking to shift things up yet again. After four albums with Roadrunner Records, they left the label for Nuclear Blast for their newest album Sorceress, which looked to be infusing more of a metal flavour back into their material. More interestingly was the fact that Steven Wilson was nowhere near the production credits of the album, which hasn't been the case for Opeth in fifteen years. And as such, the critical reviews have suggested it's one of Opeth's best albums in years too, so I wanted to ensure I gave it full consideration... even if, again, it is a little late. So okay, what did we get with Sorceress?

Friday, October 14, 2016

video review: 'sit still, look pretty' by daya (ft. the lp club)

So this whole endeavor came together pretty quickly and pretty damn well, if I should say so myself. Definitely take the opportunity to check out Ethan's content over on The LP Club - he's a smart kid and way more articulate and informed about music than I was at his age - he brought solid game here, I'd love to see his channel grow.

On a different note, I'm still refining the Opeth review, but I also have Karen Jonas here as well, so stay tuned!

video review: 'oh my my' by onerepublic

Well, this was disappointing...but on some level, are you all really surprised this is only kind of mediocre and pretty far from great, more derivative than anyone could have expected?

You were? Yeah, so was I, so let's move on to an album nobody expected to be good and with a special guest along the way, so stay tuned!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

album review: 'oh my my' by onerepublic

If you asked me if I liked OneRepublic, I'm not sure I could give you a straightforward answer.

And really, I should be able to at this point, because for a band as mainstream and accessible as OneRepublic, coming to a concrete opinion should not be as hard as it is... but it's hard to ignore how the band has evolved radically throughout the course of their decade-long career. They started in the tepid side of adult alternative, somehow finding ways to make Timbaland's production boring, and their second album was somehow even less tolerable. Hell, there was even a part of me around the turn of the decade that considered OneRepublic just a vanity project for frontman Ryan Tedder, especially as he had gotten far more traction as an in-demand producer, sort of like how Maroon 5 is effectively a vanity project for Adam Levine at this point. And in terms of sanitized pop rock, a Maroon 5 comparison is not unfair...

And then Native happened. Suddenly OneRepublic was back on the charts... but the songs didn't suck. I'm not too proud to admit that 'Counting Stars' was a pretty damn great track, and their follow-up 'Love Runs Out' might have been even better. More surprisingly it showed OneRepublic experimenting with different, rougher sounds and lyrics that aimed for more complex territory. Coupled with the fact that Tedder knew his way around a good hook and was willing to push his vocals a little harder, it was the first time I cared about OneRepublic, and I reckon I wasn't the only one.

But man, I had mixed feelings going into Oh My My - I didn't really like 'Wherever I Go', and despite Tedder promising to still have organic presence, all indications were that this was going to be another scattershot and messy pop album - one probably going long, too, clocking at around an hour. That said, Ryan Tedder had somehow roped in Santigold and Peter Gabriel of all people as guest stars, so Oh My My was bound to be somewhat interesting, right?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

video review: 'the holographic principle' by epica

Well, this... not as good as The Quantum Enigma, and it'll probably miss my year-end list overall, but still a damn great record all the same, and definitely worth your time if you're curious.

Next up... well, might as well get OneRepublic out of the way, along with a little surprise... stay tuned!

album review: 'the holographic principle' by epica

So I don't tend to talk about critical trends that often - as I've said before, critics all have distinct opinions, and if they're expressed well, I can be understanding. But there is a trend, particularly among some metal critics, that I want to address: the critical dismissal of symphonic metal.

Oh, don't act like you haven't seen it, it can happen with power metal too. It's often considered too cheesy and melodramatic, or it's too poppy and accessible and doesn't try to be as complex as 'real' metal bands. Frankly, I'd like to say that we as metalheads have moved beyond this, but that's obviously not the case, and if Evanescence ever follows up with their threat to release another album, I'll explain why in greater detail there. And look, it's not like those stereotypes and criticisms can't have a vein of truth - I've heard acts like Delain, I totally get it - but it also sells short a crop of symphonic metal acts that actually have more ambition and power than are given credit.

So let's talk about one of the most perennially underrated bands in the genre: Epica. I'll admit that it took me a while to come around on this group - growing up Nightwish and Within Temptation were both more accessible, and Epica did take some time to refine solid melodic hooks, but they are one of the most lyrically ambitious bands in any genre that I've covered, tackling big idea material with the sort of insight and depth that deserves a lot more attention, easily as cerebral as most progressive metal bands can be. I still hold The Divine Conspiracy and Design Your Universe as fantastic records, but in 2014 Epica finally managed to hit a sweet spot with The Quantum Enigma, which had their best ever hooks and showed frontwoman Simone Simons finally bringing the dramatic presence to match it. It was also one of their most successful records, and given how they were describing their upcoming project as even bigger, it looked like Nuclear Blast had seen that success as a chance to give them an even meatier budget. And all the more promising was the thematic idea of exploring the universe as a digital hologram - okay, not the most unique theme to explore, but Epica was bound to go deep with this and potentially could reconnect with the human drama that ultimately felt a little slight on The Quantum Enigma. So okay, I was entirely on board with this as one of my most anticipated records of 2016, what did we get with The Holographic Principle?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 22, 2016 (VIDEO)

Look, I don't need to say anything with this one beyond HOLY SHIT FALSE ALARM IS AWESOME and you all need to be listening it - okay, I'll stop.

On a different note, we've got Epica, Opeth, OneRepublic, and Daya on the way, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 22, 2016

So here's the other thing about the last weeks of a Billboard year - more than ever, it becomes a game of timing if you're looking to land a song on the year end list. Release the song early enough and it's no issue, but unless you've got a guaranteed smash hit heading for an inevitable #1, it might actually serve you better to release your songs a little later - keep in mind that most tracks will only ever stick around for twenty weeks on the charts, and the last thing you want is to release a track where midway through its lifespan the year shifts and you're only left with a portion of that time to rack up the accumulated sales, streaming, and airplay to get on the next year's list.

Monday, October 10, 2016

video review: 'revolution radio' by green day

Well, this happened. Overall, I really wish I could love this as much as Green Day's best, but at the end of the day it's only pretty good with an inspired closing track, and you don't get to the top on that alone.

Next up, though... man, so much metal and rock I want to cover. OneRepublic is going to wait a bit, let's hit either Epica, Joyce Manor, or Opeth first - stay tuned!

album review: 'revolution radio' by green day

And there were people who thought I wasn't going to review this.

In truth, I wasn't going to miss covering a new Green Day album for the world, even though I'd make the argument that I've got a complicated relationship with the band. Like most people of my age I gravitated to American Idiot in the mid-2000s, but as those of you know who saw my review with Jon over ARTV, the album that really won me over the band was 21st Century Breakdown, a gloriously rock opera that was scattershot lyrically and about the furthest thing from raw punk music, but was too damn catchy for me to resist and ultimately has aged a lot better than other Green Day records. And from there, I went backwards - I dug into the early 90s Green Day albums that set the stage, including the record Kerplunk which with its sharp songwriting and drop-tuned grooves probably remains my favourite of their early years. Their work throughout the mid-to-late 90s... I don't hate it by any stretch, but I definitely get why it took American Idiot to reignite the sharper creative spark, even though I did really love some of the weirder twists on Warning like 'Misery' - that album at least tried to tell more stories.

And then 2012 happened. Those of you who read my blog can go back to find the three reviews I wrote for Green Day's triple release in the fall of that year, but suffice to say it did not go well. I'll admit I wasn't exactly a great writer back then, but I also went back to revisit those records for the purpose of this review and that was a mistake. It's not that there weren't a few good songs scattered across, but the bad and especially the bland outweighed the good and it really should have been compressed into one great record instead of three mediocre to bad ones. But one of the most damning criticisms was that the trilogy made Green Day look and sound out-of-touch and disconnected, not with the youth that's always been their audience but the social and political issues now, that could have had ripe material for commentary.

So fast forward to 2016, Green Day have a new album... and look, when I got my copy early I almost didn't even want to cover it. In a year where so many pop punk bands have struggled for relevance, I'm not sure I could take Green Day screwing it up again, and they were significantly older. That said, given how absolutely turgid and unstable this year has been in terms of politics, they've got the most fruitful material since the Bush administration and I had to hope that they'd at least do something interesting with Revolution Radio... so did they pull it off?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

video review: 'a seat at the table' by solange

I feel like this review shouldn't end up being controversial... but who knows, anything peripheral to Beyonce tends to make people flip their shit, so we'll see what happens. Still, thought-provoking album, and there really are some gems here.

Next up, though, something much more in my lane - stay tuned!

album review: 'a seat at the table' by solange

I wasn't planning on reviewing this album.

Part of this was my schedule - my stack of albums to cover over the next few weeks has reached a frankly staggering height, and there are records I've had to cross off my list purely out of necessity or delay until the very end of the year where I typically do some catch-up. And even then, there were going to be albums on which I was generally ambivalent or didn't show the sort of evolution to make a review worthwhile that I'd probably set aside.

And for the most part I was intending to do this for the newest record from Solange Knowles, the younger sister of Beyonce and an artist for whom I've been pretty lukewarm at best. Part of this is historical context: her debut album Solo Star in 2002 was a slice of underwhelming hip-hop-inspired R&B in an era where that was the norm, and when she followed it in 2008 with a generally tasteful retro-throwback record on Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams... well, it was definitely good, but it wasn't a record that I often felt inclined to revisit. It was pleasant enough, the lyrics were interesting, and I appreciated that Solange was generally making more subtle and listenable music than her sister was in the 2000s, but I was never gripped by it. I don't think she was helped by Janelle Monae coming in a few years later with a similar vocal style and yet more impressive production, writing, ideas, and charisma across the board. And from there... well, I didn't really hear much from her.

But it became very clear that just because I wasn't listening doesn't mean Solange wasn't working on projects, first with an EP cowritten with Dev Hynes in 2012, and now this, which has won over volumes of critical acclaim from some unexpected sources and spurred a tidal wave of requests. And hey, eight years is a pretty impressive distance between records and if this record was socially conscious and potent as suggested, it could make for a powerful listen. So I decided to check out A Seat At The Table - what did we get?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

video review: 'clearview' by poets of the fall

...yeah, it's a good record, but man, I wish I liked this a lot more. Why couldn't they have just kept the production in house like every other time before, they could have saved this...

Eh, whatever. Next up, time to see what all the fuss is about surrounding Solange, so stay tuned!

album review: 'clearview' by poets of the fall

If you've been following me since 2014, you should all know how much I've been looking forward to this record.

But for those of you who haven't, and might not otherwise be familiar with this band, let me add a little bit of context. Coming out of the alternative metal scene in the mid-2000s, Poets of the Fall is a Finnish band that immediately made a lot of impact for me thanks to a melodic focus, strikingly well written lyrics, and arguably one of the most versatile and expressive singers in the genre courtesy of Marko Saaresto. Their first four records might not have always been consistent, but you could at least count on at least three or four songs that kicked all amounts of ass, and would be frontrunners for some of my favourites in that given year - never quite as immediately abrasive as their contemporaries, but their knack for hooks and power ballads made them favourites of mine all the same.

And yet in 2014 things seemed to be changing. For one, coming after the damn near untouchable Temple Of Thought in 2012 there was a marked shift in direction towards more experimental pop sounds, which was a bold move. It's probably their most polarizing record - although for me it didn't shy away from any of their strengths and remained pretty damn kickass, landing on my list for my favourite records of 2014. But I'll admit I was going into their newest album Clearview with no real view into it, or any idea where the band would take their sound next. Would they continue down a pop path, venture back to alternative rock and metal, or do something unexpected altogether?

video review: '22, a million' by bon iver

I'm surprised there hasn't been more blowback on this record yet. I get the feeling it's coming - this sort of thing tends to have a delayed fuse - but you never know...

Anyway, finally time to talk about Poets of the Fall, so stay tuned!

album review: '22, a milion' by bon iver

Here's something you probably don't know: until these past few weekends, I've never listened to a Bon Iver record.

Oh, I knew Justin Vernon and his willowy croon. I knew he had a knack for melody and heartfelt but oblique lyricism over a misty cocoon of indie folk instrumentation with hints of electronic embellishment. I knew the waves of critical acclaim that had been piled on the record as one of the main acts behind the indie folk boom of the early 2010s. But it was one of those cases where I knew their sound far more by reputation and those they inspired over the past decade than their actual music. And in some sense that's a problem, not just in the inflation of reputation but also a sound we've seen grown and develop over the past few five or so years - and for the longest time that was fine, as I didn't think I'd have to care. After all, the band was on hiatus, there was no sign they'd ever make another album.

And yet they did and as such I went into Bon Iver's first two albums... and I'm not sure what to tell you all, because while I liked it, I didn't fall in love with it the way I think so many people did around the turn of the decade. It was pretty, the writing mostly worked, Justin Vernon did his ethereal thing... I just didn't get sucked into it as much as I wanted. I will say while For Emma, Forever Ago is probably the better record, Bon Iver, Bon Iver does have some strong standouts when the songs build a little more of a groove and foundation to them. So okay, with that in mind, did the newest major stylistic shift on 22, A Million work for me more?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 15, 2016 (VIDEO)

Pretty short week here - actually skipped World Hit altogether mostly because there was so little to talk about (and you couldn't pay me to talk about James Arthur, someone who got booted from Syco because even SImon Cowell couldn't stand him - WOW).

Beyond that, though... Bon Iver. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 15, 2016

So after this week we're now in the final seven weeks of the Billboard year - which yes, ends in November - the last chances for songs to snag spots on the year-end Billboard Hot 100 list, which like it or not can serve as a pretty definitive historical record of this year in pop music. And thus for me, who uses that year-end chart as a strict guideline for tracking my best and worst hits of the year, this is where the horse race starts to get tight indeed. And given that 2016 has been such a dumpster fire of a year for pop music, it's more of a desperate hope that a few long gone songs hold their place and a few new arrivals rack up enough presence fast enough.

video review: 'atrocity exhibition' by danny brown

I'll admit I don't love this record as much as I want to - sort of like Death Grips in that regard - but this was one hell of a listen regardless and definitely worth everyone's time.

On the other hand... well, I've got Billboard BREAKDOWN first, then Bon Iver - stay tuned!

Monday, October 3, 2016

album review: 'atrocity exhibition' by danny brown

So here's something you probably know: as a rapper and artist, I tend to like Danny Brown. 

But if I'm being brutally honest, there's a part of me that likes the idea of Danny Brown and writing about him almost more than his music itself, mostly because he's the sort of fascinating artist you don't see very often anymore. His critically acclaimed breakthrough XXX held a fascinating split: a rapper who could descend into depravity that was borderline cartoonish, but who could also step back into more vividly detailed and conscious content, the sort of material that didn't just show a more thoughtful MC but aos provided the context to why he cut loose the way he did. That wildness was explored even more thoughtfully on his 2013 follow-up Old, which I did review, but outside of some harrowing darkness the dramatic contrast felt a little skewed, and I ultimately didn't find the record as enjoyable as I was hoping. 

From there, though, Danny Brown seemed to drift from project to project in a way that either implied he was just screwing around or that something had gotten knocked loose in his brain. Aside from saying he was writing a children's book inspired by Dr. Seuss - which if this exists I need to find - he also would show up for guest verses in all sorts of odd places, from the 'Detroit vs. Everybody' compilation which had him working with Eminem and Big Sean to working with Freddie Gibbs and Madlib on a song off of Pinata to collaborating with Aesop Rock and Busdriver. Overall, we haven't seen a lot of Danny Brown over the past few years, to the point where he showed up twice on the new Avalanches album Wildflower - including its best song opposite MF Doom 'Frankie Sinatra' - it was a legit surprise. And I'll admit it was a real surprise to hear he was dropping a record called Atrocity Exhibition on a new label with a posse cut that included Kendrick, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt - because of course it did. Much more interesting was that the executive producer was Paul White, who you might recognize from earlier this year on the collaboration project with Open Mike Eagle on Hella Personal Film Festival, which remains my favourite hip-hop project of this year. But Danny Brown seemed to be working with a lot of people and styles I liked, and considering this record was reportedly his most wild and eclectic to date, I had to hear it... so what did we get?

video review: 'who the hell is damone tyrell?' by damone tyrell

Well, this takes care of the last of my real backlog... now onto the meaty challenge, the huge list of records I need to discuss over the next two weeks! Lord help us all here...

Okay, Danny Brown and Bon Iver first, let's GO!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

album review: 'who the hell is damone tyrell?' by damone tyrell

I try to avoid talking about other critics online.

Now there are times I can't avoid it - if I'm collaborating with someone it's bound to come up, and we're always curious on some level what other people might say or think - but to me we've all got our own lanes and approaches, and as long as things stay civil I'm generally pretty pleased. And full disclosure here, I actually have collaborated with an affiliated member of the group behind the artist I'm covering today, where they actually sent me the project to review in full. That doesn't mean I'm going to go easy on anybody - I'd be less of a critic if I did - but I feel it's necessary to provide context.

So, for all of you who saw the name of this artist and then asked the question in the title of his album, Damone Tyrell is an Atlanta MC by way of Buffalo who at the last minute decided to compete in an open mic competition called The Bar Exam when he learned it would be judged by the team over at Dead End Hip Hop. And hell, if I was an aspiring MC, I'd probably give it a shot too, but when Damone won he attracted some real attention, which led to a congregation of producers to give this guy a real independent push. And before I even start with the review, let me stress how much I admire this sort of idea - they've always said that Dead End Hip Hop is a movement beyond the reviews, and with projects like this and The Joint mixtape last year, I can definitely respect the idea of becoming the force not just of promoting the music you love, but enabling its creation.

But I've wasted enough time - let's ask the big question, who the hell is Damone Tyrell?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

video review: 'vinyl' by william michael morgan

Well, this turned out about as well as I could have hoped. Solid record too, really did enjoy this.

Next up... well, I'm not sure I'm ready to really deal with Danny Brown quite yet, so I might tackle something else... we'll see, so stay tuned!

album review: 'vinyl' by william michael morgan

So as I've mentioned a couple of times, country in 2016 has been overall pretty promising. Sure, the indie scene is having an absolutely fantastic year, especially on the edges of the genre, but I'd be remiss not to mention that the mainstream seems to finally be recovering from the stiff and sterile metropolitan trends that came after bro-country collapsed in on itself in 2014. Sure, there are still plenty of mainstream country records that play to that more synthetic sound, but the winds are changing, and the growth of huge sellers like Chris Stapleton or even reliable staples like Jon Pardi are telling the industry that an old-school or neotraditional sound might be viable again.

And coming right into that mix is William Michael Morgan. Born in Mississippi, he caught some traction with a song cowritten with, yes, Sam Hunt called 'I Met A Girl'. Not particularly a great song - felt a little run-of-the-mill lyrically for a love song - but the production definitely intrigued me, with more pedal steel to match the gentle acoustic vibe than I had heard on a mainstream hit in a long time. Coupled with a voice that reminded me in the right way of George Strait, I was among the critics who were going into his debut album with skepticism - we've seen too many upstarts get sucked towards trendy sounds or fall off the radar, look what happened to Easton Corbin - but also some hope. Given that I've never really been on board with Jon Pardi, I had some hopes this kid could be the real deal - maybe not at the level of an act like Cody Jinks, but I could hope, right? So I made sure to check out Vinyl - did we get the return to neotraditional quality country radio has been missing for so long?

video review: 'care' by how to dress well

As I said at the end of the review, I think I had more fun writing this review than actually listening through the album (though I still hold 'Salt Song') as fantastic, but given the shitstorm I've received over the past few hours... good thing to hold onto, why I put up with all of it.

Now before I get into the overloaded mess of upcoming records dropped yesterday, I've got two more I want to knock off my list that are priorities... stay tuned!