Monday, February 27, 2017

video review: 'boy thursday' by KNIVES

And now I finally got to a project that, well, if you're a hardcore punk or post-hardcore fan or you like rap rock, you'll probably dig it. Beyond that... eh, the writing's good, at least.

Beyond that, Billboard BREAKDOWN is next, and I have no idea where my schedule goes, so stay tuned!

video review: 'theater of dimensions' by xandria

You know, I don't know if I had covered this a few months ago I would have gotten more hits off of it, but I am a little disappointed this doesn't seem to be attracting more attention. Eh, it happens, but still...

Anyway, it's not the only review I'm dropping tonight, so stay tuned!

album review: 'boy thursday' by KNIVES

So as I've mentioned a number of times, I didn't go through an angry white boy phase in my teens - I jumped pretty much from mainstream pop and hip-hop radio to power and symphonic metal, and that meant I pretty much skipped modern rock radio. And a big consequences of that is that I came to the nu-metal rap rock scene much later in my early twenties in comparison to many others - it was not a formative part of my musical evolution. And I'm kind of grateful for that, because upon revisitation with rare exception, a lot of rap rock tended to be really bad, especially in the late 90s the closer it crept to the gut-churning angst of nu-metal or the overblown and frequently disgusting machismo of acts like Limp Bizkit. This was music that rarely bothered to be tuneful or driven by consistent grooves or strong musicality, and that's before we get to the often atrocious lyrics. Now that's not saying I didn't find stuff I liked: I've always been a big fan of the Beastie Boys, and when you follow it with solid work from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More, and Rage Against The Machine, there is a subset of this music I like, especially leaning towards more of the punk side.

And there's a part of me that feels this genre could sustain a comeback, potentially even driven from hip-hop instead of rock. Acts like Doomtree and Run The Jewels are only getting production that is more aggressive and abrasive, and that's before you touch on mainstream acts like Eminem, who I'd put money on pursuing more of a rap rock direction if he drops a record in a year or so, especially if he goes more political. And so into that vein comes KNIVES, a new band fronted by L.A. rapper J. Medeiros, who you might know from his association with Rawkus Records or his work with The Procussions in the early 2000s. Medeiros has actually been active since the late 90s - and pretty damn prolific at that, so in addition to a planned debut from his electronic/hip-hop project AllttA later this year, he's been pushing a rap rock band inspired by punk and post-hardcore called KNIVES. They have a debut record, and in the aftermath of covering P.O.S and not getting the political material for which I hoping, I thought this would be a good step - was I right?

album review: 'theater of dimensions' by xandria

So I've talked a little before about the rise and growth of symphonic metal on this channel, but one thing I haven't touched on as much was the very brief moment in pop culture where it crossed into the mainstream, specifically in the early-to-mid 2000s. Of course, it was the sort of crossover that was driven by one of the absolute worst entries - yes, I'm talking about Evanescence, and you'll get the full extension of that rant if they ever release that next album they're threatening - but for a brief segment of time, acts like Nightwish and Within Temptation had a chance to at least snag attention on the fringes of rock radio, and you definitely saw their sound on albums like Century Child, Once and The Silent Force pivot slightly in that direction.

But one factor that tends to get overlooked is like with any other trend, there arises bands that want to copy or at least get a taste of that same success, and symphonic metal was not an exception. You had obvious wannabes like Delain which continue to this day or bands like After Forever, which disbanded only a year or so after the boom collapsed in the mid-to-late 2000s. And somewhere in the middle falls Xandria, which despite forming in 1997 didn't release a debut album until 2003. And for the next five years, right in the heights of the subgenre's boom, they released four albums, none of which I'd argue are all that memorable or well-produced, with India probably being the best of them. And yet as the 2000s ended, rotating through singers and bassists and guitarists, you could easily make the statement that the band might not last.

And then something strange happened. After a fairly solid release in 2012 with Neverworld's End with Manuela Kraller fronting - the only record for which she was frontwoman - the band seemed to stabilize their lineup with the recruitment of Dianne van Giersbergen, arguably their best lead singer to date - of no relation to Anneke van Giersbergen, I should stress. And with the release of 2014's Sacrificium, I started noting a marked improvement in the arrangements and writing, to say nothing of some more spacious production. This was even further enhanced on the sharper EP Fire & Ashes, and thus I had reason to hope going into Theater of Dimensions that the improvements would continue - was I right?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

movie review: 'get out' (VIDEO)

Man, I'm thrilled there was so much interest in this so I could cover it, because it was a fantastic movie and worthy of so much praise. AMAZING flick.

But back to music reviews, I've got Xandria and KNIVES and man, my schedule somehow got insane again. Stay tuned!

video review: 'sing it now: songs of faith & hope' by reba mcentire

I really need to get better about posting these videos when they're done and up, this one took nearly three days... granted, it was absolute hell to edit and put together, but still, no real excuse here.

Next up, though... stay tuned!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

album review: 'sing it now: songs of faith & hope' by reba mcentire

I don't even know where to start with this one.

See, when I saw this come up on Patreon, I literally went to the guy who requested it and asked politely if I could skip it or he could ask for something else, and I figured I'd have good ground: after all, it's a selection of traditional religious hymns, that's not something any critic normally covers. And there's a very good reason for that, given that the music on a record like this is normally secondary at best, with instead the main purpose being for worship. And again, that's not saying that music can't have religious themes, but when you're considering the art of it all, you're left scrabbling for something that's often not even as relevant, especially on a lyrical level. There are, of course, exceptions, but in certain brand of evangelical gospel, poetry and writing often take a back seat to conviction.

But then it was pointed out to me that there was indeed a second disc of entirely original religious songs... and I still wasn't very satisfied at all, my overall point still stood. But then I thought, 'Well, hey, this is Reba McEntire, the country artist who managed to survive the overly sanitized 80s in order to become one of the most impressive and long-running hitmakers in the 90s, there'd undoubtedly be some quality here'. And hell, I even stand behind her self-titled TV show as being a lot smarter and well-written than so many people gave it credit, and she was an expressive actress. And it wasn't like there wasn't a demand for this album: it debuted at #4 on the Billboard 200, it sold tens of thousands of copies, people clearly were interested. And hell, I still have faith, even though my view of it is a lot more complex and layered than what you typically see in evangelical parishes, so maybe this record could move me despite my extreme skepticism. So are these songs of faith and hope up to that challenge?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 4, 2017 (VIDEO)

Well, this week was all over the place - and seemingly like every meme-associated review I do will probably wind up with a ton of hits, go figure.

Next up, though... actually, I have no idea how many hits this next review will accrue, we'll see. Stay tuned!

video review: 'DROGAS light' by lupe fiasco

I expected there to be a much bigger backlash on this video than what we got. Not complaining, mind you, but an interesting observation. 

Next up, though... after Billboard BREAKDOWN, things get interesting, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 4, 2017

Okay, so as you can all probably see, this episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN is a day late. This is because of President's Day in the United States, another holiday that extends the chart week... and considering the Grammys happened, it also seems to have the peculiar impact of blunting their overall impact on the Hot 100, at least in the way I expected. Now that didn't mean it didn't cascade through - we'll get to that - but it also meant that we got another overloaded week full of changes...

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

album review: 'DROGAS light' by lupe fiasco

Anyone else get the feeling that Lupe Fiasco is trolling all of us?

Look, I've made my complicated feelings on this Chicago MC public before: an imaginative and fearlessly ambitious MC who never felt comfortable with the mainstream due to his tendencies to indulge in all manner of twisty, cerebral weirdness. And the key word is 'indulge': he has the same penchant for extravagant ambition that can make for incredible moments and songs like 'Prisoner 1 & 2'... but can also lead you to the impression that despite good flows or beats his material is more clever than outright insightful. Which is frustrating, because when Lupe could focus on smaller subjects he made songs like 'Kick Push' and 'Deliver' which allowed him to channel his underappreciated pop sensibility, he made phenomenal tracks. But at the same time, he's also got more than fair share of big idea duds that don't have the intellectual heft to back their pretensions - and sometimes he doesn't even have the big ideas!

Yeah, if I had major concerns going into DROGAS Light, Lupe Fiasco's first fully-independent hip-hop album, it was coming in the buzz that this was a 'refinement' of his infamously contentious and very mainstream-focused LASERS from 2011, not aiming to be as cerebral or progressive. The problem is that I've heard Lupe do this sort of satire of mainstream hip-hop before back in 2014, and his commentary has never really impressed me - especially in comparison with artists who brought more real bite to that sort of satire and especially in 2014. So if we were looking at a full hour's worth of that, which many critics have condemned and Lupe himself has only given a 7/10... well yeah, I was worried. But hey, if I was to give LASERS credit, for a radio-friendly record Lupe does know his way around a good hook and even if the content wasn't up to snuff maybe he could bring a couple great bangers here, right?

video review: 'little fictions' by elbow

Well, it took me entirely too long to get to this, but I'm happy I did. But next up... hmm, it's going to be interesting, I can't imagine the fallout will be fun. Enjoy!

album review: 'little fictions' by elbow

So one thing I've stressed a number of times is that while I'm generally fond of Radiohead and while I certainly respect them, I would never consider myself a huge fan. And yet what I find amusing is that there are a fair few bands where you can trace obvious influences to Radiohead of which I'd say I'm a much bigger fan. Muse is one of those bands, Porcupine Tree is another - although there's always been debate how much Steven Wilson pulled from Radiohead, but that's a far more contentious argument - and another is the art rock group Elbow. In fact, given how lush their debut album in 2001 Asleep In The Back was - and if this review convinces you to do anything, go listen to Asleep In The Back, it's incredible - you could easily imagine Elbow as the intersection of a more organic Radiohead and a Porcupine Tree that was aiming to be a tad less progressive and more accessible.

But over the next decade Elbow quickly split from any easy comparison to those groups. Their sound got more raucous, heavy, and diverse on their second record, and after an unfortunate lull on Leaders Of The Free World in 2005, the group regained some experimental pomp and groove with The Seldom Seen Kid in 2008. Unfortunately, with the critical acclaim that came to that album came commercial success, and while there are some acts that have successfully leveraged that for greater artistic heights, Elbow weren't quite one of them. The group had realized one of their greatest strengths came in the unique vocal tones and intricate lyricism of Guy Garvey - the Peter Gabriel comparisons are blatant and a good way - but he also had a bad habit of sliding towards sentiment, and when the underwhelming nostalgic tones didn't quite coalesce on Build A Rocket Boys! in 2011 and the stiffer pomposity of 2014's The Take Off And Landing Of Everything didn't quite satisfy, I was beginning to wonder why I wasn't just listening to The National, who at least could be counted on to carry their melancholic existential crises with more groove and swell. What I think was the larger problem is that Elbow had fallen into a comfortable sound, and if they weren't recapturing the atmosphere of their debut, they were at their best breaking out of it. Now I didn't expect either on their newest project Little Fictions, but hey, I've been surprised before - was I here?

movie review: 'the LEGO batman movie' (VIDEO)

Man, it's been nice to talk about a movie again. Glad I'm going to be doing more of that this year thanks to Patreon, it's been quite a trip.

But not a lot of time to say more, next up is Elbow, so stay tuned!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

video review: 'stories from my notebook' by terrancedamien

Yeah, I don't know how many people are going to watch this one, but overall I'm okay with it. Think I was a tad too quiet in this one, but eh, it happens.

Next up will probably be Elbow and then the LEGO Batman Movie, so stay tuned!

album review: 'stories from my notebook' by terrancedamien

Sometimes you know what you're getting into... and sometimes it's a complete crapshoot. You might have good feelings, but who knows what's coming when you get a record from an unknown artist who says he's been following you since you started your channel a couple years back, waiting for the opportunity to slide in.

Yes folks, this is another act who managed to get his album up the schedule on Patreon: TerranceDamien, an MC for whom I can't find a lot of information but recently seems to have picked up traction thanks to a few freestyles that he compiled into a mixtape last year, and now with this record of ten songs. And honestly, it's rare when I go into a project and have no idea what to expect in terms of production or sound or rapping ability or anything. I saw that there was a label associated with this guy, but I couldn't find any official website or anything else dropped under it, so it looks a homebrew. But that's not a bad thing: purely independent hip-hop projects can be something special if the production and bars are on point: look at Chance The Rapper or Macklemore, so I went into this with clear eyes: what did I find?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

video review: 'chill, dummy' by p.o.s

Well, this was a fascinating and difficult record to crack, but I'm finally glad to talk about it. Next up, though... this is a different, even more indie record hip-hop record coming up, so stay tuned!

album review: 'chill, dummy' by p.o.s.

There's been a part of me that's been a lot more reticent to talk about this record than I probably should be. 

Part of it is that I've gone on record a number of times saying that of all the members of Doomtree, P.O.S. was probably my least favourite. That's not saying he's a bad MC - every member of that group can spit incredibly well, and they all have a knack for fantastic, hard-hitting hooks - but from my experience with both his solo projects and his Doomtree verses, P.O.S. is trying to walk a high-wire act that's high reward, but high risk. Of the group, he's always been the most outwardly political and borderline punk, not just in his content but in his production, which often feel assembled from the rough-edged shambles of his Doomtree work balanced with more ramshackle punk sounds. Coupled with a penchant for bombast, there's a fine line between righteous anthems anchored in real firepower and slipping towards the sort of self-indulgent corniness that can either be grudgingly tolerated or facepalm-worthy, it's no surprise that he was signed to Slug's label Rhymesayers, the two share a lot in common. And just like with Slug and Atmosphere, I can find P.O.S. a frustrating MC, especially with some of his cringier punchlines, flows and delivery that could be uncannily similar to Eminem, especially early on.

So what about his albums? Well again, given that I'm not a huge fan of his, I have a hard time calling out one as an absolute favourite before going into chill, dummy. I will say that Audition was probably the one that annoyed me the most in terms of frustrating lines and tones, but Never Better was a more refined pivot that featured more of the Doomtree crew and was better for it, albeit going on longer than it should. That problem was corrected by his 2012 project We Don't Even Live Here, but that record was frustrating because for all of the stronger grooves and some of his best ever hooks, between awkward synth tone choices and some extremely questionable lyrics it fell towards very uneven territory. So did similar issues show up on chill, dummy?

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

This was certainly a less excruciating week than last time - more diversity here, for one - and I'm fascinated to see how the Grammys impact things going forward. Until then, back to my schedule and... hmm, P.O.S.. Well, this could be fun, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 25, 2017

So folks, did you have enough of me talking about Big Sean when the review dropped last night? Well, it's not over - because to replace Migos and as a lead-in to the expected chaos that'll come with the Grammys, Big Sean brought in six new songs to the Hot 100 to an already busy week. Yeah, believe it or not, I'm not sure he's the biggest story here, from some major shifts in our top ten to a swathe of new arrivals peppering the rest of the Hot 100.

video review: 'i decided.' by big sean

So I got a little nasty in this review... and yeah, I don't regret it for a second. This was mediocre and forgettable, plain and simple, and I had no patience for it. Thank god I've got P.O.S. next, get some good hip-hop in my system.

But first, Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

Monday, February 13, 2017

album review: 'i decided.' by big sean

I struggle to comprehend why people are fans of Big Sean.

That's not saying he doesn't have a few good songs - he does - or that he can't pull together a decent flow, because over the past two years he's proven he actually can. But if you're going to throw your weight and critical attention as a fan behind any rapper, I simply don't understand why you'd pick Big Sean over literally anyone else. Sure, a flow matters, but an excess of corny punchlines, his choice of beats that often are way heavier than he can convincingly back up, and he's been frequently outshone in personality and content by his guest stars. But it's not just that he's frequently a mediocre artist: he's an inessential artist. More often than not, even when he's at his best it's music that's passable and fills time, not that anyone is going to remember or care about or sing at karaoke in five years. Hell, even when I reviewed his big collaboration EP with Jhene Aiko TWENTY88 I got the impression that she'd rather be singing opposite Drake than him.

And so I couldn't help but feel a certain amount of poetic irony that the buzz going into this record was that Big Sean was looking to mimic the sound and style of Drake, specifically off of the project If You're Reading This It's Too Late back in 2015. Now I didn't really like that project - it wasn't really in Drake's wheelhouse as a performer, the style and flows never seemed to fit him comfortable - but hey, maybe Big Sean would be able to make something out of it, right?

video review: 'process' by sampha

Okay, that's the first review tonight... might delay the Big Sean review until tomorrow meaning, we'll see on timing. Stay tuned!

album review: 'process' by sampha

I didn't know what to expect going into this.

I mean, I knew a little about Sampha, I recognized the name, but the name of this English singer-songwriter-producer was never one that I had ever felt inclined to seek out on the benefit of guest performances alone. For one, I was first introduced to him through SBTRKT, where his vocals were frequently featured - and maybe it was just a really bad concert experience a year or so back, but I've never been all that fond of SBTRKT and I wasn't really blown away by what I'd heard from this guy. That hasn't stopped him from collaborating or working with some of the biggest and most critically acclaimed names in hip-hop and R&B - Drake, Kanye, FKA Twigs, and most recently a vocal contribution to Solange's last album that I remain less in love with seemingly everyone else. 

So when I heard this record was getting mountains of critical acclaim from a wide variety of sources - from those I respect like a few fellow YouTube critics to those I don't, which is rapidly including most other publications - I figured there was something to this guy's debut that caught people's ears, especially if the acclaim was this diverse. So I dug into that debut Process - what did I find?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

video review: 'all these countless nights' by deaf havana

Okay, I know it's not a good look to say that this caught me by surprise by how good it was... but yeah, I really dug this, a lot. Smart writing, great hooks, it stuck with me pretty effectively.

Next up, looks like Sampha and (sigh) Big Sean, so stay tuned!

Friday, February 10, 2017

album review: 'all these constant nights' by deaf havana

So I think I've gone on the record a number of times that I don't really care for post-hardcore music. It's not really my scene, the clash between screams and melodic singing can feel awkward and not always compliment the riffs, and I've also had the misfortune to see a lot of terrible bands come out of the genre as it mutated into something far uglier in the latter half of the 2000s and early 2010s. It wasn't my scene to begin with, and thus you can bet I had some extremely mixed feelings preparing myself for the English group Deaf Havana, particularly their 2009 debut that, hey, wouldn't you know, was produced by Matt O'Grady of You Me At Six, another group that I didn't really care for and yet would have never have covered if it wasn't for Patreon!

But then something happened - their screaming vocalist Ryan Mellor left the band for personal reasons after that first album, which resulted in a hard pivot towards pop punk and power pop. Their sound got rootsier along the way, and what resulted was a very Jimmy Eat World-esque stab at rock, only with more interesting and intricate guitarwork and tighter basslines, which I'd consider a net positive. And for once, critics agreed, throwing a fair amount of praise their way for that 2011 project Fools And Worthless Liars, which I actually happened to like a decent bit. The pivot and overwritten but earnest lyrics actually reminded me a little of Frank Turner in a good way - frontman James Veck-Gilodi didn't have that kind of charisma, but you could definitely see him on that path, especially as a songwriter on tracks like 'Hunstanton Pier'. Coupled with a penchant to take some borderline progressive instrumental risks - and how their third album Old Souls dove into even more rough-edged material, even pulling from soul and blues to augment an already strong power pop formula - I had a lot of reason to dig into All These Constant Nights and expect real quality. So did we get it?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

video review: 'ty segall' (2017) by ty segall

Kind of a disappointment, I admit... but hey, I'll listen to Ty Segall any day, this had promise.

Next up, though, is Deaf Havana... stay tuned!

album review: 'ty segall' by ty segall

It seems like Ty Segall has done more in the past ten years than several artists do in their entire careers. Starting from the pits of garage rock before exploding towards the abrasive fuzz of lo-fi, the garish trappings of old-school glam rock, and a whirlwind of noisy psychedelia in between, he doesn't so much burn through musical genres so much as pick up additional layers and ideas wherever he ventures, piling them into a gleefully nihilistic pot that would eventually wear out its welcome if it wasn't so captivating in a twisted way.

Now I've covered two of his albums already on this show, neither quite being my favourites of his assorted work - those would be the more acoustic and yet gorgeoulsy melodic Sleeper and the absolutely insane project he did under The Ty Segall Band, Slaughterhouse. His 2014 project Manipulator was probably his most ornate affair, his 2016 album Emotional Mugger his most ugly and alien - both firmly grounded in unsettling conceptual territory that lent to some very good songs... but not quite great albums as a whole. And so I wasn't entirely surprised that he was opening 2017 with a self-titled release, the second of his career, reportedly rounding up some of his old band to compile all the accumulated ideas... but it was a name in the production credits that really caught my eye: legendary producer and professional curmudgeon Steve Albini. Make no mistake, his name alone tends to do a lot to rope me in, so you can bet that if Ty Segall was pulling a band together for a wild recording, it'd probably cut hard, so you can bet I wanted to hear this. So what does Ty Segall deliver?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 18, 2017 (VIDEO)

Well, this was an absolutely miserable week to get through... sorry, folks, but Migos is crashing hard and Sam Hunt is somehow getting worse. Fuck, this was hell to get through.

But on a different note, I've got Ty Segall next, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 18, 2017

To say I have some mixed feelings about this week would be understating it. On the one hand, I'm reasonably happy with a few shifts in our top ten - we've got a returning #1 I actually like and it looks like it'll have some staying power. On the other hand... this was the week Migos came in force, and nearly half of our new arrivals involved them - and that's not counting another song that seemed destined to even further sink my regards for the artist into the earth's crust, but we'll get to that in a bit.

Monday, February 6, 2017

video review: 'not even happiness' by julie byrne

Man, this was a frustrating review - and one that I planned to get out on the weekend to get ahead of my schedule. Shame that plan kind of went up in smoke given a mild amount of insanity this weekend... eh.

Next up, Ty Segall, and then Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'not even happiness' by julie byrne

So I've talked in the past about the 'white guy with acoustic guitar' subgenre - hell, it seems like most music critics on YouTube have at least cited it at this point - and I think like most of us who regularly use the term, we're obliged to explain our interpretations of it at some point. For me, my distaste tends to come for a certain languid, lazy, and yet overly polished and sanitized brand of it, that doesn't aim to push into any interesting lyrical or instrumental directions and simply serves to fill a very safe, middlebrow niche, calculated to the point where it undercuts any sense of feigned sincerity. But that's not dismissing acoustic-leaning indie folk, because while there are a considerable share of stuff that will tilt into that style and lane, usually you'll see a bit more flexibility and innovation than in the mainstream, which can definitely add some colour. I might have many, many issues with Mark Kozelek, but he's a distinctive enough auteur that I'd never outright discount him under this label.

Similarly, while there are fewer of them I'd also argue the label can apply to women as well - they aren't immune to bland artistic bankruptcy - but again, it's not to discount the ones that opt to push into interesting directions. Take Julie Byrne: going back through her debut on Bandcamp you could make the argument that the quiet domesticity and small details would make for the sort of material I'd otherwise find tedious - and yet while I'd be lying to say any of her work was exciting, I found myself mostly liking the filmy cassette quality and muted somber tones of that 2014 debut record Rooms With Walls And Windows. There was a distinct homegrown texture to the instrumental tones and her delivery that did have a certain amount of charm to it, and yet while I was never entirely hooked, I did find a fair amount to appreciate. She aimed to follow it up this year with Not Even Happiness... which yes, was promising a cleaner sound, which did raise some concern, but hey, maybe it'd be interesting, right?

Friday, February 3, 2017

video review: 'vessels' by starset

You know, I wish I could say this was disappointing... but the truth is that I didn't really have many expectations to begin with on this one. Just kind of a slog all around.

But next up, this Julie Byrne project looks interesting, so stay tuned!

album review: 'vessels' by starset

Space rock. Perhaps one of the oddest subgenres of rock I've ever covered, it's never amassed huge popularity or become widely recognized... mostly because unlike the majority of musical subgenres, the term is based on subject matter rather than sound. Well, okay, that's not quite entirely true - musical tropes like huge waves of synth, muted electronic touches to distort human presence, and a commitment to gigantic expansive mixes do tend to crop up, but it's generally used as a catch-all term for music that focuses on science fiction and space. And it's included a surprising breadth of artists, from 70s acts from David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and Hawkwind to the 90s resurgence among acts like Failure, Flying Saucer Attack, and some records from The Flaming Lips, to the growth and success of acts like Star One, Angels & Airwaves, and Muse at one end of quality and Thirty Seconds to Mars at the far other end - and that's before you factor in the huge number of progressive acts who have helped develop and expand the sound into a recognizable aesthetic.

In other words, it should be no surprise that I'm a fan of this genre - not just because I'm a sci-fi nerd, but also because the commitment to bombast and big ideas can be pretty compelling if well-executed. So enter into that scene Starset, an Ohio rock band that wanted to tell those big sci-fi stories with the sort of midi-touched cinematic swell that could make for potent space rock - hell, the frontman had a PhD in engineering, this should be right up my alley. Unfortunately, the more listens I gave to their debut album Transmissions the less I liked it, mostly because the band was a lot less Ayreon and a lot closer to Thirty Seconds To Mars and Breaking Benjamin of all people, who they described as their primary influences. And that definitely shows through in underwritten songs, underwhelming lyrics, and a lot of space rock touches and textures that didn't really have the compositional strength in the melodies and performances to be more memorable - I appreciate spacey bombast, but there needed to be more heft in the writing and storytelling for it to really stick with me or rise to the best of the genre. And when Starset announced that their sophomore album Vessels was going towards pop instead of heavier metal... well, okay, that wasn't precisely bad, it'd certainly be defining its own unique lane. Hell, it could even work with their more basic lyrical construction and delivery, so how does Vessels turn out?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

video review: 'near to the wild heart of life' by japandroids

Well, this was actually a fair bit of fun. It's not as strong as Celebration Rock, but still, if you're a fan, you'll dig this.

Next up, though... yikes. Stay tuned!

album review: 'near to the wild heart of life' by japandroids

So here's a confession about me: I didn't really cut loose or run wild in high school. 

I know, that's totally shocking, but the truth is that for as much as I was dipping my toes into metal and anarchist philosophy in the mid-2000s, I wasn't really a wild kid. A big part of that was sports - I was huge into track & field and I basically managed to drag all of my D&D group along with me onto the team - a big part of it was my own academic ambitions - I went to university out of province to study physics of all things, I needed high grades - and if you couldn't tell by the previous D&D reference, I'm a huge nerd. Coupled with the fact I went to a private Catholic school with a graduating class of less than forty kids that was really too small for many cliques, I was involved on the debating team and a bit of musical theater, and my parents gave me a considerable leash to prove my responsibility, which included access to a car, I didn't really have a drive to rebel that hard outside of a few too many car accidents.

Look, the reason I'm saying all of this is that despite liking a lot of the pop punk explosion in the mid-2000s, it wasn't really the soundtrack of my teenage angst... mostly because I wasn't really an angsty kid growing up. Hell, my sullen misanthropic phase was in my second year of university, and the soundtrack to that was mostly Top 40 club hits - it was a weird phase, let me tell you. But it also can make for a fascinating listening experience going back to acts like Japandroids, a Canadian punk duo who dropped their debut album Post-Nothing in 2009 full of scuzzed out guitar work and anthemic crunch that made their material natural for unsettled for teenage emotion, complete with the sharper writing that made them a critical darling nearly immediately. And when they followed it with the even catchier and sharper Celebration Rock, which took much of the lo-fi sound and refined it into more incisive, recklessly exuberance, it looked like Japandroids could go in any direction and still connect with remarkable power. And yet five years later, what did they deliver with Near To The Wild Heart Of Life?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

video review: 'road less traveled' by lauren alaina

Well, this was way better than I think anybody expected. Good pleasant surprise with this, definitely dug it.

Next up, Japandroids, stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 11, 2017 (VIDEO)

Well, this happened - I'm actually pretty happy they changed the formula, but still, it's disappointing the load of crap we got.

Anyway, next up is Lauren Alaina and Japandroids, so stay tuned!

album review: 'road less travelled' by lauren alaina

I can't believe I'm about to say this, but here it is: I'm starting to miss American Idol.

More specifically I'm missing the cultural phenomenon that came with American Idol and its ilk as a method to bring prospective singers into the limelight, specifically onto the Hot 100. Yeah, The Voice tried and we still have groups coming from The X Factor making an impact, but if I look back over the past decade in pop, outside of Glee arguably shifting things for the better, American Idol really did have an impact. I wouldn't say it was stellar or that there weren't some low points - I've seen From Justin To Kelly - but if we consider net impact, I'd take Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert, and the few other fleeting hits we got over what Vine has done to the Hot 100 in the past few years!

And while in its waning years American Idol certainly had diminishing returns, one thing I tended to notice was that the runners up also tended to get a boost to their careers, sometimes even overtaking the winners that year in sustaining the limelight. And this takes us to Lauren Alaina, who rode her success as a runner up behind Scotty McCreery to a debut album in October 2011. And I wish I could say it remotely surprised me: if you can imagine what pop country in 2011 sounded like, living in the heyday of Taylor Swift before the bro-country onslaught, packaged on an album from an American Idol winner, you know exactly what this album sounds like - bright acoustics, a little more polished than it ever should be, more country touches than you'd hear in the next few years but entirely too precious in its writing and framing to resonate outside of a very specific target audience. And yet from there, it seemed like her career couldn't get traction - she underwent throat surgery in 2014, finished recording this album in 2015... and yet only now in January of 2017 is it getting released. Now to be fair, Mercury Nashville was probably waiting out current trends in country in the hope that she could gain a bit more airplay traction, and she did put out an EP in 2015... of which four of the five songs showed up on this album anyway. And again, it's been six years since full-length albums - granted, she's faring better than Scotty McCreery, who left Mercury Nashville two years ago and hasn't really been heard since, but still, these were not good signs going in, especially when I took a look at the production credits. But okay, how did it turn out?