Wednesday, December 27, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 3, 2018

I think I was expecting a lot more to actually happen this week than actually did. Sure, it's the holiday season and that usually meant things were slower - with the exception of The Voice, but we'll get to that - but we had big releases from Eminem and G-Eazy that had hype, and also from N*E*R*D, which with the continued single success could have streaming crossover... and yet that didn't happen. Sure, Eminem got a few songs, but people must have been satisfied by what they got otherwise because this was a slow week on the Hot 100. Not complaining, mind you - sorting out year-end lists is pretty difficult as it is - but still, I was expecting more.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

the top ten best hit songs of 2017 (VIDEO)

Always the one that's the most entertaining to put together, a real treat here. Enjoy!

the top ten best hit songs of 2017

So as I said in my last list, I haven't considered 2017 nearly as bad of a year as some critics have, especially when it comes to the hits. Yeah, there was a lot of stupid, misinformed, or just outright offensive garbage that clogged up the charts, and I can see if you weren't willing to dig beyond the top ten you might dispirited in the dreary trap slog, but the truth is that the songs that did break away from that sound or mold - or hell, even a few of the tracks within it - were true gems across multiple genres. Yeah, country struggled in the mainstream this year, but there was real greatness in pop, hip-hop, EDM, R&B, and even some rock-leaning tunes. I wouldn't quite say the overall quality or sheer number of hits is comparable to 2015 or 2012, but it is up there. 

And what surprised me in a great way was the truly amazing hits of this year were strong enough to maybe even reach my year-end list of my favourite songs of 2017, not just the hits! And you know, for as many obscure or weird albums as I cover and then love, this is still a great feeling, that sometimes quality does win out and rise to mainstream prominence for everyone to share, and that's good for culture everywhere! Yeah, I know some of these picks might be controversial - especially in my Honourable Mentions - but as always they debuted on the year-end Hot 100 for 2017, and I did manage to find some quality here. So let's start with the Honourable Mentions, particularly one that if you saw my worst hits last year might shock you a bit...

Monday, December 25, 2017

the top ten worst hit songs of 2017 (VIDEO)

It's here, it's already controversial, and apparently the damn video malfunctioned because after rendering the damn thing three times I can't catch a break. Ah well, best hits of 2017 is coming in a day or two, stay tuned!

the top ten worst hit songs of 2017

There have been years where writing this list is easy. Sometimes it's like 2015 or 2012, where the bad songs can't diminish otherwise diminish a strong or interesting year - or on the flip side we get years like 2016, where the avalanche of awful is so pronounced I almost have too much material, and while that list might be painful to revisit, sheer rage makes it all surge out.

2017 has not been that year, and it's a little tough to explain why. You could make a comparison to 2014 in how so much of this year defaulted towards average instead of a more pronounced brand of awful - I'm certainly not as angry towards this list as I've been in previous years - but the truly excellent hits were much stronger in 2017. What I think has befuddled some critics is how pop was effectively overtaken by the hip-hop and R&B aesthetic on the Hot 100 - it might have become more pronounced in 2013 but in 2017 the takeover was complete, and if you weren't paying more attention to streaming instead of radio, you were going to be left behind. And thus in 2017 the truly bad songs are a bit of a mix of the pop songs tumbling towards the monogenre and the lazy, bargain-barrel dumpster fire that is the dregs of trap. And again, to establish the rules the songs had to debut on the year-end Hot 100 list for 2017, and purely boring doesn't just cut it for me. Given how much of this I've covered on Billboard BREAKDOWN, I've long been numbed to the endless swirl of interchangeable trap bangers and their brand of disposable mediocrity. If you want to land on this list, you need to really irritate me or piss me off, so let's get going with some Dishonourable Mentions!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

video review: 'saturation iii' by BROCKHAMPTON

You know, this might have taken a bit to grow on me, but I'm really genuinely happy that it did. Fun stuff.

Anyway, probably one last album review proper before I duck into lists and one big catch-up video... stay tuned!

album review: 'saturation iii' by BROCKHAMPTON

Not going to lie, I had mixed feelings about this the second I heard about it. Hell, they're the same mixed feelings I have whenever a band or act decides to drop multiple projects in a year when they could combine them into one uniquely strong record...

Actually, I'm not sure I stand by that in the same way anymore. The fact remains that I've covered a fair few artists over the course of this show who have dropped more than one project in the course of a year, sometimes with a radically different focus and style where the quality remains consistent - look at billy woods or Eric Taxxon. I think my bigger issue with BROCKHAMPTON is that while both Saturation I and II are good albums, they're a shade away from greatness, and it's hard not to feel like the thematic arc is retreading familiar territory without really evolving on it. And then there's the other big concern: burnout - quite simply, churning out multiple records in a year with a distinct promotion and marketing arc, especially when you're an independent collective, while it might be easier in the internet age it's also the sort of work that can push working relationships to their limit. And thus when Kevin Abstract made his fakeout post that Saturation III was their last hip-hop record, I believed it - artistic collectives have broken up over far less.

Now of course that's not quite the case, and we'll probably have more BROCKHAMPTON coming up, along with solo projects, but in the mean time, the critical buzz behind Saturation III was promising, so what did we get with this?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 30, 2017 (VIDEO)

And this week was pretty damn rough too... goddamn it, 2018 is not looking good going forward...

But okay, we've got some better hip-hop coming, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 30, 2017

So as I've been predicting, the charts are heading into the lull around the holiday season - and I mean that more than most, because I don't think I've seen the Hot 100 this static in months, with only a pretty sparse crop of new arrivals to bring any real disruption. Hopefully that means I can keep this episode short and get to work on my last few reviews before year-end lists, but hey, you never know, right?

Monday, December 18, 2017

video review: 'revival' by eminem

So yeah, this one hurt. Man, I wanted to defend this record... but I can't. Sorry, folks.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN and hopefully some even better hip-hop - stay tuned!

album review: 'revival' by eminem

So do you ever have the feeling before going into a movie or game or record that while you desperately hope it's going to be good, you know deep down it probably won't be? That slow, sinking feeling as your rational mind overrides the sense of hype and the feeling that nothing could live up to your expectations, even if they aren't all that high?

Yeah, that's how I felt going into Revival - and if anything, it was even worse because I've been an Eminem fan for decades. I'll admit to being one of the fans for whom Eminem was my introduction to more hip-hop, that can rattle off multiple Eminem songs from memory - and not just the singles but deep cuts and diss tracks too. And as I grew and matured as a critic and heard so much more hip-hop and Eminem's flaws came more sharply into view, it also led to a different sort of artistic appreciation for even his worst projects - while Encore is far from good it was the sort of record that understood its purpose of artistic suicide, and I still hold Relapse is criminally underrated to this day, where Slim Shady was revealed to be as perverse and deranged as he always was before, this time without any veneer of 'cool'. And even though I'd likely agree with the assertion that Eminem becomes less impressive as an artist the more hip-hop you hear, I don't think even the best in the game would deny his talent for wordplay, his charisma, and his uncanny knack for mainstream crossover success.

And thus, when I heard Em was looking to get more political for his upcoming record, not only was I not surprised I was also extremely encouraged. For many white people Eminem was one of the few rappers they would listen to or cite as a favourite, he spoke across demographics and genres and he's never been uncomfortable speaking truth to power, especially given how much he continued to identify with his working class roots in Detroit. But in the lead-up to this release - and especially after the track and feature list was released - I had a really bad feeling going into this, with names showing a lot of potential for pop crossover but few if any of the relevant acts making conscious hip-hop right now. You'd think someone of his stature would use this opportunity to put some names over instead of pass over more production to Alex da Kid and hooks to goddamn Skylar Grey - an artist who has never been interesting or compelling and who has been neutering the power of Em's hooks for too long - but if Eminem wasn't willing to venture out of his comfort zone to make his political statement, this could be pretty rough. But again, I'm an Eminem fan, I've defended records from him that many brand as legendarily terrible - can I defend Revival?

movie review: 'star wars - episode viii: the last jedi' (VIDEO)

Whoo boy, this one got a lot of anger from a lot of people... and really, I don't think it deserved it, this is a great film.

Now what's coming up next might just deserve the anger... stay tuned?

Saturday, December 16, 2017

video review: 'laila's wisdom' by rapsody

Man, about damn time I got to this one. Really is a terrific record, if you haven't already definitely make time to check this out!

Unfortunately, we've got a big one coming that I'm praying isn't a dud, but might well be. Stay tuned...

Friday, December 15, 2017

album review: 'laila's wisdom' by rapsody

So there's no good excuse for me not getting to this sooner.

Yeah, I know, believe me, I should have covered this months ago - but I'm certainly happy I'm going to be covering this before the end of 2017, especially given the mountains of critical acclaim it has received. And if anything I feel it was a long time in coming, because if there was a woman in modern rap music who has been on the cusp of really breaking through in recent years and schooling the majority of her counterparts regardless of gender bar for bar, it'd be Rapsody. Yes, Dessa will always have a special place in my heart and I'll continue to speak up for MCs like Dreezy and Noname for their respective lanes, but through her mixtapes and her pretty damn solid debut album in 2012 The Idea Of Beautiful, Rapsody made it clear she deserved more attention... which she got through big collaborations with Kendrick Lamar and Anderson .Paak, which likely helped her snag a record deal with Roc Nation and propel this album into the spotlight. And she was going big for this - her full-length albums have always been pretty hefty affairs, but getting Kendrick, Anderson .Paak, Busta Rhymes, Black Thought, Terrace Martin and primarily produced with 9th Wonder and the rest of the Soul Council was a very promising sign, I was excited for this. So yeah, I know I'm late to covering this album - I effectively had to vote it up my schedule single-handedly when nobody bothered to add it - but let's not waste time, what did we find on Laila's Wisdom?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

video review: 'kimberly: the people i used to know' by k. michelle

Well, this was frustrating... honestly, I would have probably preferred to burn something out of my backlog that do this, but these reviews all do pretty well, so we'll see.

Next up, something from that backlog and I've been looking forward to this one, so stay tuned!

album review: 'kimberly: the people i used to know' by k. michelle

This is the third K. Michelle record I will have covered on this show... and at this point, I'm questioning why I'm even bothering again beyond the fact that it's the end of the year and there aren't that many new releases getting added. And yet going back to my last review, I discovered to my amusement that I was asking these exact same questions and yet ultimately made the decision that I'd probably wind up covering her again - she was such a powerhouse of blunt personality that I kept venturing back in the hopes that there'd be some refinement in her writing or that she'd fix her consistently exasperating production problems. 

But going into this record, which was promising to be more focusing on a more vibe-driven R&B sound - and was planning to do so by bringing in Chris Brown and Jeremih, lovely - I also remembered that for as mostly positive as I've been on K. Michelle's work in the past, I've rarely felt all that compelled to go back to either of the records I've reviewed from her. Now granted, K. Michelle is enough of a personality that her plans to delve into figures in her past could be entertaining, if a bit melodramatic - she's not one to shy away from airing dirty laundry - but at the same time, it was also over an hour with over twenty songs, and there aren't many artists who can sustain that sort of momentum. And yet did K. Michelle manage to surprise me here?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

video review: 'pacifisticuffs' by diablo swing orchestra

Ugh, I wish I had liked this more... but it happens, I guess...

Anyway, next up is a record I'm a little unsure if anyone beyond the Patron who requested it cares about, but we'll see - stay tuned!

album review: 'pacifisticuffs' by diablo swing orchestra

I get the feeling that just about every element of this particular act is going to require an explanation, including why in the Nine Hells I'm covering them in the first place - because while there are weird metal acts, Diablo Swing Orchestra sits in a category mostly by itself.

And the bizarre thing for once is that I can say I've mostly been a fan of this Swedish group for years. I was introduced to their debut and arguably best project The Butcher's Ballroom in university by a friend given my liking for symphonic metal, but that's only a component of the madhouse of this group, which blends in elements of swing, jazz, and classical music to their sound with a manic vaudeville approach, blending male and female vocals of all varieties against some pretty aggressive and yet remarkably catchy progressive metal, complete with strings and horns sections to boot! And yet at the same time they were always a band that I kept a little at arm's length, mostly because they could slip towards the deeply silly despite their wit and vaudeville kitsch does tend to test my patience, even though I would say all of their work is remarkably accessible all the same. Still, I did appreciate their follow-up records in 2009 and 2012, and I was curious to check out their newest project, with a new female singer stepping in. Granted, I was a little concerned that this record had to be delayed for a year in order to correct mixing issues, but hey, we've got it now, how is Pacifisticuffs?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 23, 2017 (VIDEO)

So yeah, this was actually a pretty decent week. What will come next... I'm honestly not sure, will need to check the schedule - so stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 23, 2017

This is one of those weeks where I'm not really sure how to evaluate things, where I had a big prediction that came true faster than I could have predicted, and the rest that... didn't, because this turned out to be a slightly busier week than I predicted, partially triggered by the mass return of Christmas music - most of which I've already talked about in detail a while ago, so hopefully this'll be pretty short?

video review: 'what makes you country' by luke bryan

So this wasn't good... at all, but hey, is anyone surprised at this point?

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN and then something a little... strange. So stay tuned!

Monday, December 11, 2017

album review: 'what makes you country' by luke bryan

About a year and a half ago, during my review of Cole Swindell's sophomore record You Should Be Here, I made the statement that some might not see it that way, it should be considered the 'final' bro-country record. It was a record of endings, showing new paths forward, and while there have been attempts by some artists to reboot the subgenre, I still mostly believe that assertion. Yes, we will be dealing with 'Body Like A Backroad' in a few weeks but that seems more like the corpse of a genre that's still twitching, because we still have no information surrounding if Sam Hunt will ever release another record. Now whatever replaces bro-country is anyone's guess: between the neotraditional sound, the still-burning sparks in the indie scene, and even pop country that you might not like, but on average it is still better than what we were getting three or four years ago.

And thus I have to be brutally honest: I kind of feel sorry for Luke Bryan. I shouldn't - over the 2010s he went all in on bro-country and made some truly awful music as one of its biggest figureheads, especially when deep cuts made it plain he was capable of better - but this is now an artist who is being left behind. People tend to forget that Luke Bryan is in his forties, and while his big bet on bro-country means he'll fill stadiums for the rest of his career, artistically you get the impression he has no idea where to go next. There was a recent profile piece published in the New York Times that discussed Luke Bryan, and while the entire thing was incredibly cringey, what stood out to me the most was how Luke Bryan wanted to get coffee with Sturgill Simpson, and at least until Sturgill provided the full quote in context, he didn't seem to have any interest whatsoever in Luke Bryan - whoa. Think about what this means: it might not have been the Kurt Cobain vs. Axl Rose beef of country, but it's hard not to see a similar dynamic between them - but you have to wonder with the Luke Bryan industry and machine around him whether he'd even be allowed to take a real artistic risk. And all of that is the reason I didn't just veto this album from my schedule when it was added. From the lead-off single I didn't expect a change in sound or content... but at the same time, Bryan has to be somewhat aware the ground is slipping away beneath him, and with his label choosing to release it in December, it might be a sign that he's trying something they don't view as commercially viable to the same extent. Of course, it could also mean even they think it's complete garbage, so what the hell: what did I find on What Makes You Country?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

video review: 'between the walls & the window' by ché aimee dorval

So glad I got to cover this... actually, I'm more glad there was an interest in me reviewing this record, that's rare for stuff this underground (she doesn't have a label at all, seriously).

But unfortunately, after the cream must come the crap, so stay tuned!

album review: 'between the walls and the window' by ché aimee dorval

So, about three years ago around this time, I reviewed the self-titled debut from Casualties of Cool, yet another side project of extreme metal artist Devin Townsend. And while I could talk a fair bit about metal artists making a shift towards country, to this day Casualties of Cool remains unlike anything I've ever covered. The sinuous melodic grooves rooted in old-fashioned progressions yet decidedly new, paired with a mix as atmospheric and textured as any Devin Townsend Project record beforehand. A record playing more with subtle abstractions and ghostly metaphor than its direct narrative - which involves space travel and a sentient moon because of course it does - it was near-impossible to properly classify. Post-country, atmospheric country, it was a sound that confounded most indie country fans and metalheads alike - and yet I would posit that anybody who has actually heard the record would testify it is one of the best albums of the decade.

So why mention any of this? Well, for as much as Devin Townsend shaped the sound and production, he did have one other major collaborator: fellow Canadian Ché Aimee Dorval. She's been active in the underground for the past decade, her sound pulling on similar country atmospherics to Casualties of Cool, but also drawing on soul, blues, and rock to anchor her hypnotic and sultry melodic grooves and sharp writing. She put out a record in 2009 and an EP in late 2014, and thanks to PledgeMusic, she was able to put together another full-length record for this year that's bound to go slept on by pretty much everyone. Well, I'm not going to stand for that, so I wanted to cover Between The Walls And The Window - what did I find?

movie review: 'the disaster artist' (VIDEO)

You know, I see why people like this film... I just wish I liked it a hell of a lot more. Oh well.

Next up, hopefully something much better, so stay tuned!

Friday, December 8, 2017

video review: 'forced witness' by alex cameron

Yeah, this was a lot of fun. I know I'm late to the punch on it, but you definitely all want to check this out, it's legitimately great.

Next up, something I've been anticipating all year... or maybe a movie, not sure yet. Stay tuned!

album review: 'forced witness' by alex cameron

I'm not sure there's an easy way to begin this review, because to do so I need to explain Alex Cameron as an artist and the high-wire act he's walked throughout his career over the past ten years - and I'm not sure there's a way to do that without feeling like I'm walking through a hall of mirrors. Don't get me wrong, I like it when artists make art that is commenting on the artistic process and entertainment industry, but it's also the sort of ouroboros, Charlie Kaufmann-esque approach that can get a little exhausting to the audience.

So to lay some groundwork, Alex Cameron got his start in the electronic group Seekae but in the 2010s began developing his solo act, and the 'persona' that he initially adopted was that of a failed performer... but not exactly one that was fully self-aware that he had failed, and infused with some 80s-inspired alpha machismo and 'cool' to boot. Much of his debut Jumping The Shark was infused with this character, balancing wonky electronics with slick touches of 80s synthpop, actively taking the piss out of any sense of cool this character might have... but also playing it just straight enough to reclaim a little of it to a cult audience. From there he developed relationships with indie bands with a flair for retro grandiosity like Foxygen, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and even Brandon Flowers of The Killers, which got him a record deal with Secretly Canadian and a few writing credits behind their last album. And yet with this persona it also led to a collaboration with fellow Australian musician Kirin J. Callinan on a little song called 'Big Enough' on his record Bravado this year... which took his cult status and fused with a meme and his popularity got considerably bigger. And considering on his new album he was looking to explore similar themes of masculinity that Callinan had touched and had roped in both Brandon Flowers and Angel Olsen of all people for support, this was a record I had to hear... even despite, again, getting to this entirely too late. But hey, was it worth it?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

video review: 'war & leisure' by miguel

So yeah, I do wish this was better, but eh, I know this'll definitely have an audience. Probably should have dropped in August, but oh well.

Next up, though... should have gotten to this one sooner, so stay tuned!

album review: 'war & leisure' by miguel

So I have a hard time writing about an artist like Miguel, mostly because as a critic I like categorization, finding a way to place an act in the context of their genre. And while you might have been able to do that early on with records like Kaleidoscope Dream, in that like acts like Frank Ocean and The Weeknd he was digging into new sounds and tones within R&B in order to expand the genre. But their paths diverged very quickly: The Weeknd harnessed his love of 80s pop to attain crossover success, Frank Ocean found a ramshackle yet powerfully organic and spacious sound to win critical acclaim, and Miguel...

Well, in 2015 he released Wildheart, an album that I definitely praised upon its release for its genre-bending and grand, emotive ambition in capturing a specific Prince-inspired, oversexed, hyperstylized mood... but it was also all over the place and it hasn't exactly aged as well as you might think, feeling less and less cohesive in its tangled blur of sounds and without a lot of tighter writing to back it up. I'd definitely argue it's a good album and I really did love how far Miguel was willing to push his material, but in the wake of Frank Ocean's blonde it was an album where the high points might resonate but the weaknesses in contrast glare all the more strongly. And as such I didn't really know where he was going to take his follow-up this year War & Leisure - reportedly it was trending towards psychedelic funk, but he also had names like J. Cole, Travis Scott and Rick Ross as features, and it looked like this was going to be a slightly more grounded affair... which might not be a bad thing, because Miguel is the sort of artist with effortless charisma who could knock that material out in his sleep. So yeah, I definitely wanted to cover, this, so what did I find on War & Leisure?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 16, 2017 (VIDEO)

Lighter week, for sure, but I wouldn't really say a better one, to be honest.

Thankfully, next up is both lighter and better, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 16, 2017

So this is a point we typically hit around this time of the year: the charts start to slow down for the holiday season, we get a few extraneous songs from The Voice - just one thus far - and a sense that barring a major disruption, we're going to have some stability. Granted, said stability could be disrupted by that Eminem record dropping in just over a week, but that'll remain to be seen.

Monday, December 4, 2017

video review: 'the good parts' by andy grammer

Well this was a real disappointment... but hey, they can't all be good, I guess...

Anyway, should be much more interesting next, so stay tuned!

album review: 'the good parts' by andy grammer

So for some bizarre reason my most viewed video at this point is my Top Ten Best Hit Songs of 2015 - and to be honest, I'm not really a fan of that video. There are gratuitous editing mistakes that make cringe every time I go back to it, but I guess controversy sells, because there were some eclectic and loaded picks on that list - and while my #1 choice triggered the most controversy, one of the other entries was just as inflammatory: 'Honey, I'm Good' by Andy Grammer, a top ten hit that a lot of critics hated, especially for its cloying, tough-to-watch music video.

And yet I never did, and it's hard not to feel like a lot of people missed the point of that track, mostly because Grammer is a pop artist from a different time. If he had broken through in the 50s and 60s, I could imagine him being far more successful for his unabashed cheerfulness and sincerity, which our more cynical time tends to view as a mask or inauthentic, which they projected onto that song. Hell, I've said the same thing about many of the acts that hopped on the retro pop trend in the past few years... but I've heard Andy Grammer's albums, and it felt authentic and not a studio calculation, if a little over-earnest and corny. It makes sense when you hear that his father made a lot of music for children and was actually nominated for a Grammy in that category in 2005 - which also probably explains how Grammer got some traction opening for the Plain White T's, Natasha Bedingfield, and Colbie Caillat, basically some of the whitest, least-threatening artists in modern music - hell, his list of inspirations include Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson, Coldplay, OneRepublic and The Fray! Now his first album in 2011 actually did have a single that hit the bottom half of the Hot 100, but it was his second album Magazines & Novels that really took off, because after a failed single cowritten with a member of AJR he released 'Honey, I'm Good' and broke the top 10. And yet even in 2015 I'm not sure if Andy Grammer could have sustained a longer career there - he was defiantly uncool, and his follow-up single over a year later was 'Fresh Eyes', a song I mostly liked but didn't love... and yet was intended as a charity single so don't we all feel bad now. And thus I was kind of worried that it took over a year for the new album to drop, and now only in December. Not a good sign coming from his label... but on the other hand there's a song from LunchMoney Lewis on this, I can't get too mad at it, so how did The Good Parts turn out?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

video review: 'from a room: volume 2' by chris stapleton

...and THAT's two for tonight. Whew, pretty happy with this overall, it's a pretty great record. Next up... well, we'll see. Stay tuned!

album review: 'from a room: volume 2' by chris stapleton

I feel I have no choice but to start this review with this statement: I wish to God I loved Chris Stapleton as much as so many of his diehard fans do. And for two reviews in a row I've seen their frustration that I haven't given him the same critical acclaim as they think he deserves.

And make no mistake, I would love to be there with you. After the CMAs where Chris Stapleton picked up a few well-deserved awards, I wanted to be right there with you trumpeting his praises - but I need to be honest, it wasn't even the best Dave Cobb-produced record on that ballot. And that's the key point of frustration: for as great of a performer and as good of a writer as he is, Chris Stapleton has yet to bring it all together for me, mostly because his production has never given him enough consistent bite - which is an persistent issue with Dave Cobb's attempts at rougher sounds - and his writing has never felt as meaty as his peers. And when you factor in distinct issues like the overextended Traveller or the painfully thin and abbreviated From A Room: Vol 1, I can't put Stapleton on the same pedestal as Jason Isbell or Sturgill Simpson, at least not yet.

And look, I'll make things worse for myself and say I had serious reservations going into this: I've never been a big fan when artists release two part projects within the same year at different times, especially if the sound is pretty close. It's not an issue with a guy like Eric Taxxon or King Gizzard And the Lizard Wizard, because they'll drop four or five projects in a year and they'll all sound radically different, but I had this problem with BROCKHAMPTON and I had the uneasy feeling I'd have it with Chris Stapleton - because as I've said before, I'd rather have one fantastic project with all of the best material than spreading the highlights across two pretty good but not great projects. Now I could be wrong: From A Room: Vol. 2 could be the record that hits greatness, so does it get there?

movie review: 'coco'

This one is a pretty straightforward review - remarkably easy to talk about it too - but man, it's a good one.

But it's not the only thing dropping tonight - stay tuned!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

video review: 'visions of a life' by wolf alice

Ehh... I have no illusions this review probably won't be received all that well - which yeah, is a bit disappointing, but hopefully a bit better than the last project of theirs, we'll see.

Next up... hmm, I've got a movie review coming, but I might have something very new on the horizon. Stay tuned!

album review: 'visions of a life' by wolf alice

I'm not even sure where to start with this one - and if you saw my last Wolf Alice review, you'll know why.

See, two years ago I did cover their critically acclaimed debut record My Love Is Cool, and unlike the majority of critics I wasn't really a fan, half because I wasn't convinced the band could differentiate themselves from their 90s influences like Hole, and half because when they tried to introduce modern elements into their sound I found them pretty underwhelming, not helped by a lot of overproduction and a lack of a defined edge, especially in the guitars. Yeah, the actual compositions and lyrics were easily the best part of the record, but good writing delivered without the raw presence or firepower to compliment the instrumentation can be a considerable letdown.

But again, the band won a lot of critical acclaim and if anything they were looking to get even more wild and experimental on their follow-up this year Visions Of A Life, swapping out producer Mike Crossey for Justin Mendel-Johnsen, a producer and musician with whom I've got the sort of history that doesn't exactly present a clean picture. Suffice to say he can have a bad habit of piling in distracting instrumental elements that can clutter the mix - and considering Wolf Alice had apparently put together a noisier, more eclectic record this time around, I had no idea if or how his style would click. But hey, the band won just as much if not more critical acclaim this time around, so I might as well talk about it two months late: what did I find on Visions Of A Life?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

video review: 'attention seeker' by felix hagan & the family

So this was actually pretty enjoyable - probably not going to get a lot of coverage, sure, but it was fun regardless.

Next up, though, some old business that I reckon might not be as fun, so stay tuned!

album review: 'attention seeker' by felix hagan & the family

Okay, I've talked earlier this year about acts embracing certain gothic or theatrical elements in music - which has happened a surprising amount in 2017 - and obviously there's a sliding scale for this. On the one hand, you have artists like John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats looking for a nuanced and sincere discussion of gothic music, and on the other hand you get acts like many of the Soundcloud shock rappers and Hollywood Undead who grab up the superficial scare tactics to make themselves seem more edgy, imposing and interesting than they really are. And somewhere in the middle you get an act like Creeper, a pop rock band drawing on the baroque, pseudo-gothic melodrama of bands like Panic! At The Disco, that play with all of the intensity and sincerity but are willing to also have a little more fun with the trappings and image - there's a limit to how seriously you can really take them, and that can be just fine.

So into all of that comes Felix Hagan & The Family, a London rock group who in the grand tradition of camp draws upon pop rock, hair metal, vaudeville and musical theater for their sound - not quite as bombastic or epic as Meat Loaf, not quite as textured as Kyle Craft, but playing in a similar ballpark. They've been around throughout most of the 2010s putting out EPs that range from remarkably catchy to a little too ridiculous for their own good - all the theatricality is fun but it does strain credulity when they try to call anyone 'posers' - but there's a part of me that has a soft spot for this material, so when the votes came up on Patreon for me to cover this... well, it's near the end of the year, there aren't many new releases coming this week that I care about, so why the hell not? So I dug into Attention Seeker - what did I find here?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 9, 2017 (VIDEO)

Yep, I know it's late - stupid Warner forcing me to re-edit a chunk on a song that I apparently didn't call out immediately as being owned by them... fuck, that's embarrassing.

Anyway, I want some light-hearted fun, so this next one might just be the ticket...

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 9, 2017 I the only one who thinks something strange is happening with the Hot 100 right now? I wouldn't say it was anything that felt too far afield, but while last week was near-complete garbage - and the fact that a disturbing amount of it appears to be sticking around does not bode well - but this week seems rather slapdash, and I have a hard time seeing much of this sticking around beyond a brief blip on the radar before the holiday season sweeps a chunk of it away.

Monday, November 27, 2017

video review: 'utopia' by björk

Man, this was a tough review to put together... and honestly, I wish I liked this a lot more... eh, it happens. Next up, let's do something weird - stay tuned!

album review: 'utopia' by bjork

So I've talked about 'breakup albums' before in this series, many of which stand as some of the most evocative and emotional records that an artist can make, delving into a relationship's dissolution in real time and exploring the often complex situation to mine some sort of deeper meaning or closure. But what gets talked about a lot less is what comes after, when the emotions behind the breakup are settled, and while the memory might linger, there are new paths and opportunities going forward. Records that take this sort of direct sequel approach are much rarer, mostly because the emotional dynamic is actually trickier: the breakup provides context for the journey of the album's protagonist, but it can't overshadow the primary emotions running through it, and that's a tough balance to walk, both in lyrics and performance.

Enter Bjork, one of the most boundary-pushing artists in the past thirty years and easily one of the most challenging - and while I've talked about how it took me a while to come around on her work, the past two years since I reviewed Vulnicura has only deepened my affection for her records and her artistic process. And while I was a tad annoyed that her only creative partner on this project Utopia was Arca - an electronic producer who with every project and collaboration continues to run out his clock in my books - I was very intrigued by where Bjork wanted to take this. For one, she described this record as her 'tinder record', where she was looking to find that new love and passion, but she was also looking to explore and dissect utopian ideals, the Paradisio to Vulnicura's Inferno. Now I did have some reservations - not only was this her longest record at over an hour, utopian ideas tend to be tough to crack or make palatable to our quasi-dystopian world... but on the other hand, Bjork is a genius, her interviews before the record showed she was plenty aware and capable of the difficult task ahead of her, and considering the sonic palette was reportedly calling back to Vespertine - Bjork's second best record after Post - I was really excited for this. So, what did I find in Utopia?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

video review: 'younger now' by miley cyrus

So this happened... joy, I guess? Ugh, let's move on to something much more compelling...

album review: 'younger now' by miley cyrus

You know, on some level... didn't we all see this coming?

Okay, maybe not everybody, but when I saw people genuinely surprised that Miley Cyrus was returning to country music - note the word 'return', that's going to be important here - I just had to sigh and shake my head. Right from the very beginning Miley has always played as the L.A. outsider from Nashville - hell, it's the entire premise behind 'Party In The USA' - and with her thicker accent and twang inherited from her country singer father Billy Ray Cyrus, there was a part of me that deep down knew a country pivot was coming.

Granted, if you consider her career over the past decade I can see why some might not have expected it, from electro-pop at the beginning of the club boom to the awkward trap sounds of 2013, a year where her fame was at its unsteady peak, all the way to the nightmarish mess of psychedelia that plagued her disaster of a 2015 record Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. Because there were some consistent throughlines - reckless provocation without much weighty content to back it up, production that tried and mostly failed to support her, and in her trap-leaning years an approach to hip-hop that all kinds of tasteless and raised some ugly questions about white pop stars pilfering black culture. And now that she got all the partying out of her system, she can leave that job for Post Malone and go back home to a nice, safe, whitebread sound. And as such, I had very little interest in this: if I wanted a pop star dabbling in country I'd stick with Kesha, who at least seemed to care about her art and who I could easily see fitting with those experimenting in the genre, whereas a disheartened Miley after the election last year was claiming she could reach out to a conservative demographic with this new image and genre shift. Now there are all sorts of problems with the assertion without even getting into the optics, but all of it would be irrelevant if we didn't talk about the music, so what did I find on Younger Now?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

video review: 'blue lips' by tove lo

Well, this was... mostly disappointing, but eh, it happens. Next up, though... whoo boy, time to handle some old business...

album review: 'blue lips' by tove lo it safe to say I had low expectations going into this record?

Because I remember having the feeling that Tove Lo had so much damn promise coming out of Queen Of The Clouds: clearly ambitious with a lot of personality, aiming to touch on darker, more sexual, more nakedly dangerous and reckless material and with the sharp songwriting and knack for pop hooks that made her a hell of a rising talent in 2014... and then two years later all of that went out the window with Lady Wood, the first half of a two-part project that left a lot of listeners wondering whether the second half would be worth the bother. The melodies had been sucked away, the delivery had shoved the melodramatic impulses and intensity into the murk, and despite clearly trying to convey a potent story, the record felt more conceptually underweight than ever. And that makes for an awkward admission: for as many times as I've listened to Lady Wood, even just a year later I don't remember it at all, and that's not a good sign going into the record's 'sequel'.

Now reportedly this was aiming to be a more emotive and expressive record, less of the dark house elements and more straightforward dance pop - hell, if your lead-off single is called 'Disco Tits', it's definitely clear you're even trying for subtlety this time around! But on the flip side, it wasn't as if she switched up her production or writing teams, so there was a very real possibility this record could wind up as barren and swamped out as her last one. But hey, it couldn't get worse than Lady Wood, right?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

video review: 'no dope on sundays' by cyhi the prynce

Well... damn, I wish I liked this a lot more. It happens, I guess... but still, annoying.

And speaking of possible disappointments... well, stay tuned!

album review: 'no dope on sundays' by cyhi the prynce

So this is one of those debut albums where I can see people being shocked in five or ten years that it took this damn long to come out. Hell, there were a few cynical folks that said the hype would never pay off and we'd never get a proper debut, but for those people following CyHi The Prynce and his fans, it has felt like we should have gotten this record years ago because of all the hype. He was signed to Def Jam in 2009, got a cosign from Kanye and signed to G.O.O.D. Music a year later where he contributed to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he had credits on Cruel Summer and Yeezus all the while he continued to churn out mixtapes, and with his Black Hystori Project tapes even notched some critical acclaim... but where was the album?

Well, I'm not going to say I know the answer here - there was apparently some label confusion and he eventually wound up getting dropped from Def Jam altogether - but I did take the opportunity to go back through those tapes and to my shock I was a lot less of a fan than I wanted to be. And believe me, that came out of nowhere considering I liked his flair for detail and his very real charisma and he tended to have great taste in textured and interesting samples and hooks that went big... but the more I listened to his tapes the more I got the impression of an MC who had a lot of bluster and hard words for people not following the right, respectable path, and yet a fair bit of evidence he wasn't always toeing the straight and narrow either, especially in some of his attitudes around women. Now this is not an uncommon predicament for artists who want to be heralded as leaders in hip-hop, but artists like Kendrick and Big K.R.I.T. are always intensely introspective and self-critical, digging into what their potential hypocrisy and failures meant and reflecting on their experiences to refine some of their most nuanced and compelling work. With CyHi... the seeds were there, but especially on the second Black Hystori Project tape the messaging and hypocrisy began to ring more sour for me. But hey, maybe now that we have a full-length commercial debut - clocking in at a whopping seventy-two minutes - we'll have the room for that deeper introspection to really make things click, right?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 2, 2017 (VIDEO)

Well, this was... awful, actually. Can only hope what's coming up next will be better... eh, we'll see. Stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 2, 2017

So we're now starting the fourth year of Billboard BREAKDOWN, and the plan - at least for me - was that we'd start off with a bang, the flurry of activity that you would expect coming from the massive release of Taylor Swift's reputation... and yet as I predicted last week, the impact was pretty muted, thanks to her one-sided war with streaming that led to the album still not up on those platforms. So what could have been a blowout turns falls limp, and the week actually turns out pretty quiet... eh, it happens.

Monday, November 20, 2017

video review: 'a long way from your heart' by turnpike troubadours

And that's two for tonight - and thank god this is better. Seriously, this is a great record, GET IT.

Next up, a debut that's been very long in coming, so stay tuned!

album review: 'a long way from your heart' by turnpike troubadours

Well, it's about damn time, isn't it?

Seriously, if it wasn't for Patreon tiers shifting this down, I would have covered this record a good month ago - and frankly, I'm a little surprised the country fans I do have on Patreon didn't vote for this more! Maybe it's a factor of the band not quite yet having the same mainstream breakthrough or name recognition as many of their peers... and yet talk to any indie country fan in the know about a go-to band for them, I'd put money on Turnpike Troubadours showing up pretty damn high on their list, they're definitely picking up more of that audience.

So for everyone else, who are these guys? Well, they're an Oklahoma country band that has been putting out damn excellent, textured country records for the past decade - and just like Parker McCollum, they're entirely independent and have built up a pretty impressive grassroots following. But even though they do flirt with the rougher sides of Americana and southern rock, nobody would dare say these guys weren't country through and through, keeping the guitar and fiddle tempos and playing aggressive to match remarkably textured and impassioned lyrics that have supported them on record after record. Now I will say I'd be hardpressed to find a single record of theirs that stands out the most - they've got the sort of uniform high quality that informs bands like Blackberry Smoke or The National or Spoon - but the album I got into them the most was their second record Diamonds & Gasoline that just nails that ramshackle edge perfectly for me, although their self-titled album in 2015 is a damn solid introduction too. And thus when critical buzz was suggesting this was somehow even sharper than their previous efforts, you can bet I wanted to cover it - even if it hasn't proven to be the breakthrough just yet, I wanted to do my part and dig in. So what did I find on A Long Way From Your Heart?

video review: 'the rest of our lives' by tim mcgraw & faith hill

Whoo boy, this was not good at all. Hoped to be better, but it happens...

But that's not all we're getting tonight, stay tuned!

album review: 'the rest of our life' by tim mcgraw & faith hill

Well, this is a bit awkward - mostly because there's absolutely no way I come out of this review looking good, especially given the complicated circumstances behind how and why this album got made.

See, I would put money on the vast majority of you knowing who Tim McGraw is - one of the most consistent hitmakers in mainstream country for the past twenty years and counting - but if you don't know your recent pop or country history, you might not know that Faith Hill was arguably even bigger than he was, especially at her peak in the pop country crossover boom of the late 90s. Seriously, she's sold over forty million records and has had top ten hits on the Hot 100 - even if you didn't like a lot of her music, in the era of easy listening power ballads she was absolutely huge.

And yet that was fifteen years ago at least, so where has she been? Well, it's tough to put your finger on why the hits dried up, but I'd argue it's a confluence of factors. She took a break from touring when she had a baby so momentum sputtered, her release schedule became more scattershot, but I'd put more on the changing trends in pop and country. In the early 2000s country got a lot rougher and more lyrically charged, and if the pop divas found it hard to transition into the R&B era without getting an edge, adult contemporary -leaning artists like Faith Hill found it even harder. I've criticized Tim McGraw for making very sedate country music, but with Faith Hill the polish was even more pronounced. Shania Twain at least had a little more rollicking energy and even that would dry up in the face of stiff competition like Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood. And when Taylor Swift showed up a few years later and pushed country's innocent side into territory that trended younger, it didn't help matters. Couple it with the bro-country boom and the club era and suddenly it's 2017 and Faith Hill hasn't released a non-Christmas album since 2005 - regardless of who you are in the industry, very few if any mainstream acts can be out of the spotlight for that long.

But Faith Hill was going to make a valiant effort anyway, and with Tim McGraw providing his cosign, they went on a tour as a couple this year, husband gallantly trying to revive his wife's career. And yet I had friends and family who were not music critics and who were fans went to those shows and the reviews were shockingly negative, that the performances were underwhelming or unpolished, that Faith Hill's hits hadn't lingered in the public consciousness and she wasn't doing a good job bringing them back. And thus I had some serious misgivings about covering their collaborative album The Rest Of Our Life, because 'Speak To A Girl' had only been okay and just like her husband Faith HIll never wrote her own material. At least Lori McKenna was back to contribute cowriting credits to two songs, but so was Meghan Trainor, so I wasn't sure this would stick the landing. So, how did it go?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

video review: 'ROME' by armand hammer (ft. beezy430 of dead end hip hop)

Well, this was a ton of fun, I'm glad this came through. 

But next up, I've got a few country reviews coming up, so stay tuned!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

video review: 'probably wrong' by parker mccollum

So this was pretty damn good - a little off the beaten path, but still worth reviewing.

Next up, though... well, we'll see, it's going to get interesting. Stay tuned!

album review: 'probably wrong' by parker mccollum

So here's a conversation that a lot of indie country fans probably don't want to have, but the sooner we have it the better off we're all going to be: we have an image problem. And when I say that, the problem is that already we have certain expectations what an indie country act is supposed to look or sound like, and as much as we're supposed to be more willing to embrace sounds that buck trends, we have trends of our own. Trust a guy who has covered plenty of it in the past few years, this genre is saturated with guys with gruff raspy baritones and grizzled beards leaning towards southern rock, or girls with alternative hair cuts and husky voices and tones touching on rockabilly or smooth jazz. And don't get me wrong, I like that image and sound and I like many of the artists that use it, but if we start using it as a barricade against acts coming into the indie country space that could definitely have a place here, that's a problem.

So take Parker McCollum, a guy who's two years younger than me and looks like he could be fronting any bro-country act... and yet dig a little deeper and you end up finding a lot more. For one, he runs his own independent label where he's been releasing projects for the past five years, and going into his first album The Limestone Kid, there's nary a drum machine or drop of Autotune in sight: just straightforward, hardscrabble Texas country with fiddle, pedal steel, rough-edged guitars, and damn good melodies to boot - you can definitely hear the Ryan Bingham and Townes Van Zant influences creeping in. Now that 2015 debut is far from flawless - the songwriting can feel a little iffy at points, and it was clear that McCollum was still growing into his voice, but there was promise there. And when I heard his sophomore project was coming out this year, bundling two EPs plus a few new songs, I was pretty excited - yes, the buzz was suggesting he maybe was adding a little more of a pop flourish with more piano, but if the sound was good and the Texas country edge remained prominent, I had high hopes for this. So, what did I find on Probably Wrong?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

video review: 'what if nothing' by walk the moon

...frankly, I'm amazed I had as much to say about this group as I did. Eh, oh well.

But next up, something a fair bit more underground - stay tuned!

album review: 'what if nothing' by walk the moon

So I've always been a little on the fence about Walk The Moon - probably a good bit more than many people expect, it all you know them from is the 2015 smash hit 'Shut Up And Dance'. And yes, that song did make my year end list for the best hit songs in 2015, but there was a part of me always a little distant from it, mostly because I always questioned how much I liked it because it was Walk The Moon... or because it sounded so much like The Killers-lite.

And look, I have often praised plenty of acts for calling back to the past, but what I've stressed is that the act should do something to make themselves distinct from their influences, and covering Walk The Moon's record Talking Is Hard in 2014... look, it's not a bad album, but it didn't have that memorable star quality for me, not helped by an underwhelming frontman and lyrics that didn't often click when they aimed higher. So when I heard that Walk The Moon was heading in a more electronic-inspired direction - because they're an "indie" band in 2017 and of course they are - I at least had the hope that they were going to do something interesting this time around. On the other hand the early buzz was suggesting they fumbled this too, so I really had no expectations on quality - but what the hell, what did we find on What If Nothing?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 25, 2017 (VIDEO)

And that's the last of this Billboard year... and I'm exhausted and drained by all of it. Walk The Moon tomorrow, good night folks!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 25, 2017

So we've now reached the end of the Billboard year for 2017, the third year I've been running this show. And while I'll have plenty of thoughts about what hits eventually make the year-end list - stay tuned for about a month for year-end lists, I'll have a lot to say - 2017 from a weekly chart perspective has not exactly been one of the more interesting years. Yes, there was a pretty exciting point midway through the year where we flipped over a few #1s in a row and the top ten certainly has felt unstable over the past couple of weeks, but for the most part the year has been dominated by a few absolutely monstrous hits and a whole lot of songs that either blew their hype or never seemed to be that huge to begin with. It left many a track scrabbling to eke out a spot on the year-end list, and what does finally make it through in a month will be fascinating...

Monday, November 13, 2017

video review: 'reputation' by taylor swift

And now the beast is out... whew, this review went way too long.

Okay, next up is Walk The Moon, but first is Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'reputation' by taylor swift

It's hard not to feel sick of Taylor Swift at this point. 

And when I say that, I'm not really referring to the music with this, but more of the media circus and controversy. The celebrity feuds, the fan wars, the over-analysis of her artistic persona and image by critics and journalists fascinated by the inherent contradictions that have run rampant through her career, and that's not even touching on the relationship drama and TMZ-esque gossipmongering that I end up having to care about because it'll inevitably show up in the music! And since her image has been micromanaged within an inch of its life and her publicity is so carefully regulated, it's hard not to get the sneaking suspicion that all of it is so carefully crafted as not to represent a shred of anything real, all so much artifice but no real core.

And it didn't really use to be like this. I'm not going to say that Taylor Swift's pop country roots always felt the most authentic, but there was a level of balance and craftsmanship that went into her first three albums- especially Speak Now, her best record - that represented a fascinating contradiction: the hardworking, perfectionist musician behind the scenes that could somehow also represent the American everygirl because on some level it still fit her experiences. But starting with Red and continuing onto 1989, that balancing act became even more precarious, as her fame and image not only overtook the music but also more of her artistic identity: her songwriting has always had a limited scope but her transition to pop added layers of gloss to the every girl image that became less relatable and more striving for symbolic iconography - she wasn't your everygirl best friend but the hypermodern American girl ideal you wanted to look up to, complete with the ambiguous moral center that began curdling in slow motion. But that balance comes at a price: if you're trying to be that defining archetype and yet you don't have a stable core of ideals, everyone else can project their image of what they think you are on you and if you refuse to ground or take control of your narrative, the negative projections will inevitably overrun the positive. As I have said a number of times in the past, I'm not big Beyonce fan, but one reason why Lemonade remains her best record is that it took all the 'Queen Bey' image and humanized the hell out of it - by grounding the narrative and image she made it so much more powerful and resonant. Whereas with Taylor Swift... it seems like we were going in the opposite direction, the ground sliding away so at best she became representative of a catty, thin-skinned control freak of an artist, or at worst like the projection of white female victimhood, or a projection of far-right leaning authoritarianism! I'm not saying she is any of these things, but the more you lose control of your artistic narrative and can become anything to anyone, the more these alternative viewpoints can take root!

Hence, we have Reputation - and I'll be straight with you all, I didn't expect this to be good. 'Look What You Made Me Do' is a terrible song that gets worse with every listen and sees her try a heel turn and not stick the landing - or maybe even succeeding too well at owning the more pronounced negative narratives - but I will say I was intrigued by the potential of a record like this. If Swift was trying to set the record straight, return some real humanity to her image warts and all and give some definition to that artistic image, there could be potential there. On the other hand, I wasn't exactly looking forward to the artistic contortions that Swift would have to make, especially with all signs showing that the music itself wasn't going to be all that interesting or compelling. But we've danced around this long enough: what did we get on Reputation?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

video review: 'sketches of brunswick east' by king gizzard & the lizard wizard + mild high club

Man alive, I really wish I could have covered other King Gizzard records than this... eh, I finally got it, we'll see what happens for the rest of the year.

Beyond that, I think Taylor Swift is up next, so stay tuned!