Thursday, March 30, 2017

video review: 'the upper hand' by AllttA

So this one took a bit for me to finally get to - overall, a good record, wish I liked it more, but that's what happens when you get weird cuts like this that come out of nowhere.

But the next release almost certainly won't fall in that category... because it's Creeper. Whoo boy, that'll be a fun one, so stay tuned!

album review: 'the upper hand' by AllttA

So... do any of you remember that rap rock debut album Boy Thursday I reviewed a few weeks ago from the group KNIVES, that I thought was decent but didn't really rise above its inspirations and ultimately just wasn't really for me? Well, I'm assuming the majority of you didn't, because that review got barely any traffic and was for an artist for which I only really covered thanks to Patreon. And in that review, I also mentioned that the rapper J. Medeiros also had a slightly more electronic-driven project called AllttA that was releasing its full-length debut this year?

Well, guess what we're talking about today, requested and voted on by the very same patron? Look, in all fairness I'm happy I got a chance to talk about this now - if you see what's coming in April we have what looks like a tsunami of new music, most of which looks to be pretty damn awesome, and this would probably get lost in the shuffle. And more than that, hip-hop has had a bit of a mixed year thus far - sure, we got Run The Jewels and Quelle Chris, but beyond that... there hasn't been a lot that's crossed my plate that I've loved. So okay, I was in the mood for some aggressive, smartly written bars, and even though I knew this would take a lot to unpack J. Medeiros is a solid MC, so what did I find in The Upper Hand?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 8, 2017 (VIDEO)

So this was torturous to film. And edit. My god, being sick doing it too was horrible. Not sure I'm proud of this one, but I'm just happy I won't have to worry about Drake for a few months more at least... or at least I hope so.

Next up, though... okay, nothing tonight, but I'm working on the AllttA and Creeper episodes, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 8, 2017

You know, it didn't use to be like this. Oh sure, make no mistake, there were times where artists could have multiple singles on the Hot 100 at once, and I remember distinctly how much some chart watchers hated how Glee would get a few charting entries every single week to eventually accrue the most Hot 100 entries of all time. But do you want to know the big distinction between Glee and Drake, who thanks to streaming got all twenty-four of his album/playlist/background noise to debut on the Hot 100 this week? Glee may have had cheap, watered down production and attempted to appropriate styles they didn't understand, but there was at least color and passion and diversity in the sounds and styles they were trying to cover! Whereas with Drake it seems like we get all of that, plus refocused into a hazy hall of mirrors that all circle back on this Canadian, minus the existential horror that could potentially make any of this interesting!

Monday, March 27, 2017

album review: 'spirit' by depeche mode

I've talked in politics in music a lot in this series: hell, one of the first things I ever clearly delineated were my criteria for political art to work, I've been focused on this for some time. And initially, given the aftermath of the election last year down south, I was expecting a lot more politically-themed art to erupt from the woodwork, artists who now have a clear and present threat erupting forth to make their statement.

But in watching a Dead End Hip Hop conversation with MC Uncommon Nasa - who I have covered a few times on this show - he raised a few points that got me thinking, the first being that hardship rarely precedes great art. Like it or not, when by necessity you have to be concerned where your next meal is coming or whether you can make rent and your art doesn't have the necessary focus, it can feel slapdash... and while that can work for some punks or true prodigies, that added rush to say something can also lead to ideas that aren't fully thought out or explored. And that's the other thing: everyone is going to want to rush to make some sort of statement, cash in quickly to be the standard bearers - and that means a lot of acts who aren't normally political will try to become political, and that can have disastrous results.

As such, when I had heard long-running darkwave group Depeche Mode was breaking from tradition to release a more politically-themed record... I had mixed feelings, to say the least. On the one hand, they have explored complex emotional, spiritual, sexual and even socially relevant themes before, but the complexities of modern politics are a very different animal, and I wasn't really confident they'd manage to bring together the writing to make this work. And to further qualify this, I wouldn't say I was a hardcore Depeche Mode fan - I think between '86-'93 they put out good records, which is a longer 'good' period than most critics give them credit, but outside of isolated cuts before and after a lot of it can start to run together for me. But hey, they're also an English group, probably looking to focus more on the political scene in their own country, and the longer time to deliberate probably helped, and Lord knows their writing has felt stale for years so maybe uncharted territory would be good for them, so how did Spirit come together?

video review: 'hot thoughts' by spoon

Well, this happened. Not a lot to say, only that it's great indie rock and I really like it.

Sadly, what's coming next... wish I liked it as much, but stay tuned!

album review: 'hot thoughts' by spoon

So here's the frustrating thing about some acts, and I'm talking about a rare few indeed. The groups that right from the start are so consistently strong, so focused, so uniformly consistent with quality... that for some inexplicable reason they fall out of the critical conversation. And while I'll place a considerable amount of blame on fans and critics taking certain bands for granted, on some level I get it - after all, people often seem to remember the tremendous standouts and are more willing to forgive the missteps, they don't really value consistent greatness in the same way. And in a sad bit of irony, a lot of these consistent albums are only given greater significance beyond the devoted cult fanbase - because you can guarantee acts like this have a cult following more than most - when the band slips up, or changes sound dramatically and splits the fanbase, or breaks up entirely.

And I think you can make the argument that Spoon fits in this category. A quick sidebar: I've long accumulated enough music that I could fill up my iPod twice over, so I've made an effort to only include great albums or better... and with the exception of Transference, I've got every Spoon album on there! And that's telling: for over a decade since the late 90s, Spoon has cranked out album after album of quality... but I can definitely see a casual observer not being able to tell the difference from record to record. So at some level I knew it was only a matter of time before Spoon decided to switch things up - and on some level, if you go back through 2014's They Want My Soul, you could see this coming. Part of this probably could be linked back to producer Dave Fridmann coming on board and bringing his characteristic heavier, blockier sound, but probably even more linked to the quiet departure of longtime member Eric Harvey, who had been with the band since Kill The Moonlight. In other words, I wasn't entirely surprised to hear they had shifted their sound in a more indie pop direction, pulling in more guest vocalists in order to pump up their sound and add a little more diverse instrumentation, this could turn out to be something interesting - so did Hot Thoughts stick the landing?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

video review: 'life without sound' by cloud nothings

Well, this was way too long in coming, but I'm kind of happy it happened. Also, the horizon line on the album cover somehow synced up with my couch and it's unnerving as all hell, I can't not see it...

Anyway, more indie rock next, stay tuned!

album review: 'life without sound' by cloud nothings

I tend to talk a lot about artistic progression in these reviews, how artists choose to evolve or mature their sound over time, placing everything in context. But here's the unfortunate other side of all of this: sometimes an act might grow or mature or evolve in a particular way that might be good for the band, but not always to my tastes as a critic. And I can't tell you how unbelievably frustrating that is, especially if you can tell the level of quality remains the same - but it happens. Sometimes it just doesn't catch your ear in the same way, it doesn't resonate on the same level.

So take Cloud Nothings for instance. Like most people, I really loved their 2012 Steve Albini-produced album Attack On Memory for its bite and smart hooks and well-defined writing. And yet when they released the follow-up two years later... see, it wasn't that the album was bad, but it didn't have the same edge. Part of which I will blame on a change in producers to John Congleton, but the hooks just weren't as sticky to me, it just didn't feel as sharp, partially because of the loss of their main guitarist and partially because the production seemed to muddy the band's strengths by pushing into fuzzier territory. It just didn't feel as immediate or gripping, and when word was coming down the pipe that this new project Life Without Sound was going to be both a little cleaner - courtesy of producer John Goodmanson, known for his work with Sleater-Kinney and Deathcab For Cutie - a little brighter, a little more relaxed... well, I had concerns. But hey, did Cloud Nothings surpass my expectations?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

video review: 'so good' by zara larsson

So, this wasn't quite as good as I was hoping, but overall, not bad at all, interesting listen.

But next up, it's going to be one that missed I while back - stay tuned!

album review: 'so good' by zara larsson

So let's talk about music distribution. Now to pretext this I don't have a background when it comes to the licensing and publishing of music, so if there's additional legal bulwarks that come up when a record is to be released internationally, please let me know - but that being said, in the internet age, there should be no good reason why any music shouldn't be available worldwide from the drop. Now when it comes to marketing, I can see it making a certain amount of sense if you're looking to stagger your sales push, but when I start doing research and I discover that the record wasn't even released digitally outside of the home country, it seems like a blown opportunity. 

So when I discovered that Zara Larsson's actually had a debut album released in her native Sweden in 2014, I had to reach out to my secret European contacts in order to somehow snag a copy. And the more I listened to it, the more I was utterly confused why this was never released - because as a pop debut, it's pretty great. I've tended in the past to place Zara Larsson in the same category as the pop upstarts launched in the wave of Lorde, but a more apt comparison, especially on that first release, might actually be Ariana Grande, because Larsson can hit those whistle notes too and she arguably had more consistent and interesting production that Ariana had on her first two releases. I wouldn't say the writing was spectacular or that Zara Larsson was more expressive than Ariana - she could tend to be a little more curt and aggressive, which narrowed her range but she could thankfully back it up - but it was a tight little project that unfortunately lags in the final third. 

And then came 'Never Forget You' and 'Lush Life' and I was onboard with Zara Larsson... yeah, 'Ain't My Fault' wasn't particularly great, but her production team had good instincts and she had writing credits on over half the album, I had hopes that in terms of pure pop music So Good would connect - was I right?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 1, 2017 (VIDEO)

Hey, sometimes it is actually possible for me to get this up early!

Anyway, Zara Larsson next, so stay tuned!

video review: 'more life' by drake

So this happened... I'm not exactly complaining I covered this, but it is the sort of project where it really should be so much more interesting than it is, especially given all the styles and sounds it's touching. Eh, whatever.

Anyway, first I've got Billboard BREAKDOWN dropping in a few minutes, and then Zara Larsson, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 1, 2017

So I was hoping this week was going to be where things started to get back to normal. Of course it wasn't all going to get there - Nicki Minaj is working on rolling out her newest record while beefing with Remy Ma, and as such we got the results of that showing up, but otherwise it looks like we have a breather - at least until Drake swamps the chart next week, but we'll get to that.

Monday, March 20, 2017

"playlist"/album review: 'more life' by drake

I've not been looking forward to this project, if you can't tell.

And I've had a bad feeling about this for months now. Forget the lead-off singles, all of which have been mediocre at best and awful at worst. Forget the fact that Drake's been seeing increasingly limited critical returns on his projects, even despite somehow being more popular than ever - somehow, he seems to be getting worse. Forget that just like Views, this project is eighty-one minutes - that's right folks, over an hour of Drake, and given that I was extremely skeptical that he'd be telling any stories or crafting any sort of narrative, that was a problem.

No, what gave me the real sinking feeling was the branding of this: not as an album, not as a mixtape, but as a playlist. And of course music "journalists" got their knees to take the hot load and gush about how Drake was 'revolutionizing music distribution'... that of course he was still selling for 10.99 on iTunes. Now I'm not going to deny there is a certain craft in putting together a good playlist in reading the flow of the audience and the room and controlling transitions and so forth. But if this album is all new songs, with the only real distinctive factor being Drake rolling it out on streaming platforms before physical copies are available, it screams of being a really cheap way to avoid calling it, you know, an album - if anything, it makes him look like he's running from critics who have been steadily charting his decline. Just because Drake tried to change the nomenclature and prioritized one form of distribution doesn't mean this is anything new - if anything, it perpetuates the utterly asinine trend that 'playlist makers' will be the new drivers of taste, when in reality it's the same format that mainstream radio DJs used to do before they were forced by delusional executives to play the same list of tracks every time. 

But for some ungodly reason you people wanted this. You wanted to hear me talk about Drake, even though this'll likely wind up overloading another episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN and I'll be forced to talk about this all over again. So what did Drake deliver on his newest album?

video review: 'infinite worlds' by vagabon

This took entirely too long to get out - should have been out on Friday, but eh, it happens.

But it's not the only thing coming out tonight, stay tuned!

album review: 'infinite worlds' by vagabon

So a couple months back there was a thinkpiece published that tried to equate alternative genres with the alt-right in American politics, and it was stupid - amazingly so, there was a very good reason why Anthony Fantano did a Stinkpiece episode on it. Now I already ranted about this on Twitter, but for speculation's sake, let's try to get to a point that the author completely missed. Let's put aside how it completely ignored the much more diverse scene that is punk, or how it seemed completely ignorant of the strident political leanings that ran through alternative rock and country, and not just in the 90s but now as well, or how the piece seemed distinctly out of its own depth and uncomfortable even broaching the idea of alternative or conscious hip-hop.

No, let's talk about indie rock and raise the question: is this genre and the market that it primarily targets predominantly white? Well, given that we all live in the internet age and listen to everything and it's far from the only genre where you could ask that question, you might have a shot at making that argument... presuming of course you ignore Bloc Party, TV On The Radio, and a host of smaller acts with black members that have existed over the past thirty-five years and never really got the attention of critics or the mainstream public. There might be an uncomfortable truth there: that the majority of rock critics, who on aggregate were middle class white guys, tended to favor and promote music that spoke to their worldview - as much as I might like them, I'm not ignorant to why The War On Drugs, The National, and Real Estate are popular in the indie rock scene.

But it seems like slowly - often agonizingly so - that both the population of critics and preferred tastes are starting to diversify and we're seeing more acts in indie rock outside of the hipster type get critical appraisal - almost to the point where it can ring as a little patronizing and tokenizing to even bring this up, so even despite this intro I'm going to try to avoid it. And into the scene comes Vagabon, who has attracted a lot of attention for its frontwoman, multi-instrumentalist and producer Laetita Tamko. Growing up in Cameroon before moving to New York, she found a scene that cultivated her eclectic style and gave her a platform for thought-provoking lyrics that certainly attracted my interest. Hell, given how stale some indie rock can feel, I'd definitely appreciate a fresh perspective, so what did we get with this debut Infinite Worlds?

movie review: 'beauty and the beast' (2017) (VIDEO)

I'm not sure how many people this review pleased, but I'm happy I finally got a chance to dig in deep here... and considering how badly I wanted this to work, it's a little heartbreaking. Anyway, Vagabon is next, stay tuned!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

video review: 'gang signs & prayer' by stormzy

Honestly, this was a quick review to throw together... and an unsatisfying record to boot. Eh, it happens. Next up should probably grab more attention, so stay tuned!

album review: 'gang signs & prayer' by stormzy

I knew it was only going to be a matter of time before I contended with this subgenre of hip-hop. And while I'm not going to say I was avoiding it, I will say I was hesitant to approach, mostly because I wasn't really sure what to expect and I knew immediately that those more familiar with the genre were going to inundate me with more suggestions the second I stepped in than I would know what to do with.

Yep, folks, let's talk about grime, the UK-based brand of hip-hop partially derived of a combination of UK garage, jungle, breakbeats, and elements of dancehall - a mutation more than specific subgenre, also pulling on elements of rough-edged gangsta rap in its aggression and depictions of urban decay. Now I've recognized grime names for a while - Dizzie Rascal, Skepta and Wiley spring to mind the most - but I hadn't really heard a lot of crossover until I started tracking the UK Official Charts a couple years ago. And given that hints of tropical rhythms starting landing in North America across last year, it was only a matter of time before some acts began importing their sound overseas, or at least picking up consistent traction in the mainstream in the UK. And one of the names that I've seen peppering the UK charts was Stormzy, who was looking to blend in more R&B sounds with grime's typical brand of aggression for the obvious mainstream crossover. And thus far he's gotten significant traction - hell, put aside the tide of people wanting me to cover this on Patreon, he broke into the top ten in the UK with 'Shut Up' and his remix of Ed Sheeran's 'Shape Of You' is doing particularly well. So okay, for someone looking for a beginner's step into this genre like the majority of people on this side of the ocean, I had to hope Gang Signs & Prayer might be a good introduction, right?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

video review: 'being you is great, i wish i could be you more often' by quelle chris

Man, it took way too long for me to get to this, but I'm so happy I did. Such a great, chill, surprisingly fascinating record that really took a lot to decode.

Next up, though... whoo boy, stay tuned!

album review: 'being you is great, i wish i could be you more often' by quelle chris

So I've said in the past that there are a few hip-hop indie labels where it's always a good idea to keep an eye on new releases. Top Dawg Entertainment is one, Strange Famous is another, and while it's a lot smaller and pretty much just for the collective I still dig Doomtree Records. Hell, I'll take Rhymesayers and Stones Throw in a pinch too - but the label I want to talk about here is Mello Music Group. If you know the name it's probably most for Oddisee or Open Mike Eagle, but all sorts of progressive, forward-thinking rap artists have worked with them in the past, and I've been generally pretty impressed.

Now one of the names there that drew some curiosity from me was Quelle Chris, a Detroit rapper and producer who is known to work with Roc Marciano for some harsher yet still thought-provoking and witty hip-hop. Now I'm normally a bit cautious when I dig into rappers affiliated with Roc Marciano, especially if they mimic his delivery - that sort of slow, deliberate delivery can have mixed results for me - but Quelle Chris thankfully was able to switch things up with more intricate and interesting samples - hell, his instrumental project Lullabies For the Broken Brain definitely deserves more attention, I really love some of the sample blends there - and a great sense of relaxed cool humor, most of which seemed to be used to obscure greater existential panics. And while I wasn't exactly wild about his more melancholic tones on Innocent Country, after his newest record began picking up some considerable critical acclaim, I figured I'd dig in, especially given that hip-hop feels like it's been off to a really slow start in 2017. So what did we get with Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often?

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

So, might as well review the album all over again, apparently... by the Nine Hells, this was an absurd episode, but overall it's been well-received, so who the hell knows.

Next up, though, something equally as weird, but much better - stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 25, 2017

So last week I made a very optimistic prediction that Lorde would challenge Ed Sheeran last week, that she'd keep the airplay momentum and huge sales to seriously step up against 'Shape Of You' with 'Green Light'. In retrospect, someone probably should have smacked me with the big stick of reality, because I was wrong in spectacular fashion. The truth is that nothing could stand against Ed Sheeran this week - Divide massacred everything in its path, which meant that of our ten new arrivals, every single one of them are from Ed Sheeran... which is a bit ironic, considering that in critical circles he's sliding rapidly towards the backlash zone.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

video review: 'semper femina' by laura marling

I'm surprised I haven't gotten a ton more blowback against this review... but then again, it hasn't gotten a huge number of hits, maybe people are still digesting it instead of being little bitches on another review (sigh...).

Anyway, Billboard BREAKDOWN and probably Quelle Chris next, so stay tuned!

Monday, March 13, 2017

album review: 'semper femina' by laura marling

So I'll admit I was pretty slow to the punch to cover Laura Marling's last album Short Movie in 2015. There was a lengthy back catalog to listen through and decode - mostly because Marling's exploration of themes and ideas reflected wisdom and nuance beyond her years - and despite being transitional and what I'd argue is a slightly lesser entry in her discography, there was still a lot to discuss and untangle. But again, it was transitional in every sense of the word - not only did it feel like a stylistic shift away from her acoustic sound to add more electric distortion, albeit feeling a bit listless, thematically it was tracing different directions too. This was a record that was partially inspired by her move to Los Angeles, and the mingled desires for companionship and lonely purity that ran through it. All of this led to an album I liked but didn't love, and while there are a few standouts that I do revisit to this day, it's not really a record that I return to very often.

And believe it or not, while most critics were a bit warmer on it than I was, they tended to fall into similar opinions, that it was a bit of a lesser entry in her discography compared to I Speak Because I Can or Once I Was An Eagle. Not so this time around - in fact, the critical acclaim that Marling has received for her exploration of definitions of femininity has been considerable... not that I'm entirely surprised here. Marling has been a critical darling for some time - deservedly so, I should add - but there is also a pretty significant subset of well-meaning critics that'll throw praise for the exploration of specific themes without really touching on whether they're done well. Now again, it's Laura Marling, she's got the sort of insight and tact that can lead to brilliant writing, and especially coming after Short Movie, I was curious how she was going to evolve her sound. So what do we get with Semper Femina?

video review: 'the breaker' by little big town

Well, this is getting a rougher response than I was otherwise expecting... eh, it happens. Again, a good return to form, but it should have been better.

But that's not the only record I'm reviewing tonight... stay tuned!

album review: 'the breaker' by little big town

It's been a running narrative and critic in-joke that Little Big Town share a fair bit in common with Fleetwood Mac, or at least their progression suggests the similarity. Sure, they started on the outskirts of country, blending in elements of pop and folk, but in 2014 with Pain Killer they took a hard left turn towards the sort of experimentation and melodic tones that ran through Tusk, and got a significant amount of critical acclaim for it. And in 2016 they did it again, ditching Jay Joyce's production for Pharrell's as they made the sunny pop record Wanderlust that seemed to reflect common tones with Fleetwood Mac's Mirages...

And now it's time we put that overdone comparison to bed because at this point of career parallels Fleetwood Mac released Tango In The Night in 1987 in the midst of solo albums and cocaine abuse, and I'm not sure Little Big Town are doing much of either. In fact, the buzz I heard was suggesting that Little Big Town were at least trying to pivot back towards country, reuniting with Jay Joyce on production and recruiting veteran country songwriters like Natalie Hemby and Lori McKenna to help. And to me that was a really good sign - not just because I wanted to avoid the implosion, but Jay Joyce has steadily become a more subtle and nuanced producer and there were at least traces of interesting ideas on Pain Killer that I'd love to see developed further, especially if the writing could match it. I wasn't going to say I had high hopes - I was lukewarm on the lead-off single 'Better Man', which was contributed by Taylor Swift of all people - but I still go back to cuts like 'Live Forever' and 'Tumble & Fall' off Pain Killer, and if they got the awful pop impulses out of their system on Wanderlust - which was thankfully ignored by anyone with taste - this could be good? So how is Little Big Town's return?

Friday, March 10, 2017

video review: 'volcano' by temples

I'm not sure anyone should be surprised that I loved this, but there's a part of me that still kind of is. I mean, it's ridiculously fun and smart and nuanced, what's not to love?

Anyway, Little Big Town is up next, so stay tuned!

album review: 'volcano' by temples

You know, if I were to characterize nostalgia among most music critics, I'd say most that it's inconsistent. We appreciate acts that pay tribute to the past, but we don't them sounding too close to that sound or they just become imitators. We like winking references... to a point. We tend to love musical subversions and deconstructions of certain antiquated genres and styles, often at the expense of the song structures and sounds themselves, but if an act earnestly tempers or refines similar sounds and material, they're 'stuck in the past'... unless it happens to be a sound we like, and then we'll throw all the praise in the world at them.

And look, I'm not going to say I'm immune to these trends, but if you want to see a band that divides a lot of music critics on this line, it's the UK psychedelic band Temples. Their debut album Sun Structures was very plain in its worship of mid-to-late 60s psychedelic pop, and yet it divided a lot of critics, a significant chunk saying that they weren't really doing that much to differentiate themselves from their forebears. And of the surface, I'd mostly agree with that, if you're fond of that particular sound they're an easy sell - and yet it was the details in the writing and the thicker punch in their production that pushed that debut up several notches for me. Yeah, I could see the callbacks to T-Rex and The Byrds, but there was enough between the lines in the melodic composition and writing make them feel distinctive. You could make disparaging comparisons to Foxygen or Tame Impala all day, but Temples knew how to structure hooks and cohesive songs, and unlike Kevin Parker they could write lyrics that weren't utterly insufferable.

But now we have the follow-up three years later, and while a good retro interpretation can have a lot of mileage on a debut, following it up and keeping things unique and interesting is tougher - and yet with that in mind, I still had high expectations for Volcano, even despite critical reviews that were, once again, all over the map. But did Temples stick the landing?

video review: 'common as light and love are red valleys of blood' by sun kil moon

Well, this was a fun exercise... can't see myself forgetting this record any time soon, fascinating dig.

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

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

album review: 'common as light and love are red valleys of blood' by sun kil moon

I have a complicated relationship with Mark Kozelek - and not just because if we ever met in person, we'd probably hate each other with a passion, or at least find the other utterly insufferable.

Of course, this would rely upon Mark Kozelek logging onto the internet or YouTube, and that's never going to happen - his resentment of social media of any kind is near-legendary. But in this hypothetical, should we ever meet, he'd probably brand me as an overly-earnest, frequently annoying hipster poptimist that's still too damn pretentious for his own good. And at the same time, I'd probably brand him as a technophobic rockist curmudgeon who is just as pretentious and whose underlying pathology of bitter nihilism is intolerable and shoddily justified. And the hilarious thing is that while we'd probably end up hating each other buried deep down we'd probably have some grudging acknowledgement of our similarities, of the other's insight and intellect and how our statements about each other probably ring more true than we'd prefer to admit, at least not without a veneer of irony.

And that's the thing: as much as I'd probably hate Kozelek in person, from an artistic standpoint I find him a profoundly fascinating figure, and one where my frustrations are rooted in many of the parallels and flaws I see in my own short stories and novel. Self-aware framing but never quite as deep as it could be to mine deeper insight, poetic and detailed and ultimately deconstructionist in his themes, but never enough to mine it into a cohesive narrative, all against instrumentation and tones that can be as inviting as they are abrasive. Much of my complicated emotions culminated in my controversial review of Benji, his critically-adored 2014 record of which I admired a fair amount of the craft but thematically frustrated me to no end. And while I was planning to cover his tangled and ultimately overlong 2015 album Universal Themes - to which I'd argue hits a few underappreciated and stunning high notes - it ended up getting lost in the shuffle. So in order to make up for that, I decided to cover his newest record Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood - a title that says more about him than any of my rambling for the past few minutes ever will - and its mammoth two hour plus runtime. In other words, I was gearing up for a monster of a double album - how did it go?

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

Weird week. Busy as hell, but weird all the same, I have to say.

Next up, though, is finally Sun Kil Moon - enjoy!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 18, 2017

So this was a weird week. I wouldn't call it a bad week - any chart where we get less Future than expected is a net positive - but the new arrivals and shifts reflect not quite a lull but a Hot 100 where nothing is quite as stable as it seems. There have been a lot of fluctuations here - and with a big debut from Ed Sheeran coming next week I can definitely see that continuing - which I tend to see as a net positive overall, it keeps things kinetic to avoid the massive stalls that did considerable damage in 2014 and 2016.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

movie review: 'logan' (VIDEO)

As I mentioned, I'm not sure this is my best review, but it is one that kind of fascinates me, I think I got close to what I was looking to explore, and that's something.

Next up, Sun Kil Moon, but first we have Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

video review: '÷ (divide)' by ed sheeran

So this is going to get a ton of hits... and I'm not all that surprised, it was a fun record to talk about.

But next up, another movie review, so stay tuned!

Monday, March 6, 2017

album review: '÷ (divide)' by ed sheeran

The more I listen to Ed Sheeran, the more I'm a little baffled that he is as big as he is, especially in the mainstream.

Now that's not a knock against Sheeran, believe it or not - on average, he's probably released more singles I like than otherwise, because while I was no big fan of 'Sing' or 'Thinking Out Loud' or 'Photograph', I did really come to love 'Don't' and 'Lego House', and that's not even counting his big two singles from his new album, both of which I'd argue are really good. But it's more than the songs at this point, because Ed Sheeran doesn't make a lot of sense as a pop star, especially in recent years, from his look and presentation to his voice to his content! For one he's an acoustic singer-songwriter who isn't really playing to gimmicks beyond an uncanny knack for skipping into R&B and soul and blues and sticking the landing, and for another, his songs have the sort of distinctive detail and character that if anything show more of an auteur voice than a lot of modern pop. And that details matters, because Ed Sheeran is not writing about wealth and success - his stories are often small-scale and character-driven, with messy human framing and a lot of alcohol abuse - he'd be very much at home in the mid-90s adult alternative scene, which is a little bizarre to hear in 2017. Sure, he'll write the boring songs that'll make the young girls cry - he knows what pays the mortgage - but I'm far more interested in the Ed Sheeran that writes 'Don't' or 'Castle On The Hill' or the absolutely stunning 'Afire Love', which to this day remains one of my favourite songs of 2014. And it's amusing to me that Taylor Swift was one of the big forces to propelling Ed Sheeran to popularity around 2013, given that in the beginning she may have tried for populist authenticity and framing but never showed the courage to get raw or real outside of 'Back To December', so where she retreated into pop artifice, for Sheeran it all feels on the table - that's what gives it bite. 

As such, I was very interested in his next album ÷, which has been getting some interesting reviews, with the critical line seeming to hang on whether you buy into Sheeran's authenticity, especially in the detail of his stories. Whether or not that's fair is a different question - I have the suspicion if Sheeran was just any other indie folk songwriter nobody would care to ask - but given that authenticity is a pretty key factor to the emotional throughline of Sheeran's stories, it was always going to be a question. For me, it all came in the execution, and I had reason to hope this would click, so what did we get with ÷?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

video review: 'human' by rag'n'bone man

It's not good, let's just say that. Okay, Ed Sheeran and Sun Kil Moon are next, stay tuned!

album review: 'human' by rag'n'bone man

Of all of the acts that I've covered on this show, especially in recent months courtesy of Patreon, this is arguably one that I have been looking forward to the least.

I know, harsh allegations, especially for an act who is currently racking up hits in the UK, but indeed, that's part of the issue. Unlike most people, I knew about Rag'N'Bone Man, real name Rory Graham, back a few years ago, and I was not surprised to see a significant push behind him, especially in the wake of rougher artists like Hozier blazing the trail for bluesier acts having success. Hell, in an episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN I used every possible excuse to avoid talking about Rag'N'Bone Man, even calling him a Hozier rip-off... which got me a fair amount of flak from people who told me that he actually predates Hozier and he had been pushing out EPs since the early 2010s. Believe it or not, I actually did know this, mostly through his affiliation with a few smaller British hip-hop acts. But that indeed might have been part of the problem for me - Hozier trended towards blues rock and gospel, rougher genres that demanded grit and a darker brand of howling soul that I really came to love. And while Rag'N'Bone Man was capable of that sort of sound, most of his early EPs played closer to neo-soul and pushed him into his smoother upper register and featured hip-hop guest verses, he was going in a different direction.

And then Hozier's self-titled debut sold over a million copies worldwide for Island and you can tell that the major labels wanted to have at least somebody who could compete in the same territory. Atlantic had Ed Sheeran who was even bigger, Interscope had Imagine Dragons - although  Smoke + Mirrors wouldn't help  - Republic snatched up James Bay who would go on to make 'Let It Go' an adult alternative hit, and Columbia... see, that's the thing, they were distributors for Hozier, they didn't need another act to play in this lane while Hozier worked on his sophomore project unless they were looking for R&B/neo-soul crossover... which I doubted. And yet here we are with Rag'n'Bone Man, for whose breakout single 'Human' you can largely thank Hozier for popularizing that style, especially in the UK. But I do like Hozier, and even though I didn't really care for 'Human', maybe Rag'n'Bone Man might be able to recapture some of that magic on his full-length debut?

Friday, March 3, 2017

video review: 'felony blues' by jaime wyatt

Yeah, not a huge amount to say about this one - short, sweet, and awesome, definitely recommend this a lot.

But next up... okay, it looks like we have this Rag'n'Bone Man project before I get to Sun Kil Moon and Ed Sheeran, plus Logan, so stay tuned!

album review: 'felony blues' by jaime wyatt

So let's talk about the prison-industrial complex.

And believe it or not, that is a relevant topic to my content, specifically in a lot of the music I cover and not just because I've occasionally been told I remind people of John Oliver on Last Week Tonight - I'm extremely flattered, but he actually has production value and humor to back up his analysis. In this case, we're going to talk about how it relates to music and artists, because beyond the outlaw context, we should consider necessity in the modern age. Think about it: when you consider the percentage of the population that is incarcerated, especially for trumped-up drug offenses, and the fact that many companies will disqualify people based upon convictions during background checks, sometimes the DIY approach to the creation of art and music might be the only way to make a little money. Now that's not to say it's a method for everyone - music equipment is far from cheap, and not everyone has the means or talent to step into that arena, but as a possible path to avoid recidivism, it's not a bad one, especially if you can tell the story of your experience. 

And what's also notable is the historical precedent - many will make the obvious connection to hip-hop, but in one of the many, many parallels between the genres, these themes have been rooted in country music for decades, albeit a lot less so in the mainstream. Hell, if you read about how many times the greats in country were either in and out of jail because of their own wild lives, I'm always a little surprised that we don't see more of these themes continue, especially as the population percentage of incarceration continues to rise and with the growth and evolution of the truly horrible modern court and prison experience. So into the indie country scene comes Jaime Wyatt, who once had a few record deals that went nowhere before running afoul of the law and actually spending time in prison herself. And since she couldn't find conventional work after getting out, she turned to country music and put together a few projects along with some soundtrack work, with her first album From Outer Space coming 2015 and now this, aiming to tell more of her story. At seven tracks, it's a lean affair, but the critical acclaim it was receiving - to say nothing of themes that could often feel all the more relevant in modern America - meant that I had a vested interest in digging in. So on this project, did Jaime Wyatt deliver?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

video review: 'reassemblage' by visible cloaks

Again, I have no idea how many people are going to watch this review, but it was a fascinating one to put together, and I'm grateful for that at least.

Next up looks to be Jaime Wyatt, and that'll be a cool project, so stay tuned!

album review: 'reassemblage' by visible cloaks

This'll likely be one of the stranger reviews I've done in some time.

Granted, I could say that about the majority of electronic music I cover, especially the more experimental and 'quirky' it gets, but Visible Cloaks sits in a peculiar space all on its own, to the point where I'm not quite sure how to properly describe it. The project of composers Spencer Dolan and Ryan Carlile, the sound sits in an odd plucky brand of warbling ambience that sparks and careens off of all sorts of bells and whistles that played fast and loose with any idea of consistent key or tempo or groove. That's certainly what I felt about their self-titled debut project, which as expected had a certain homegrown Bandcamp quality in its meandering experimentation but also brought a level of quality and poise in the compositions that did draw my interest. And when their sophomore project began picking up considerable critical acclaim... well, suffice to say my interest was piqued. So what did we find with Reassemblage?

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

Man, this was a week of surprises - half songs I didn't think I'd like as much as I do, half because there wasn't a single damn Future song that I liked (and believe me, I tried).

Eh, anyway, next up we have something I wanted to talk about that's a little on the weirder side, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 11, 2017

So I didn't have a good feeling about this week going in, mostly because I knew what was coming. I knew that we were getting the first half of Future's 'two albums in two weeks' mistake, and when you follow it with The Chainsmokers working with Coldplay, Linkin Park working with Kiiara, and Lana Del Rey, I was gearing up for a disaster... and that's before I found out about our biggest new arrival, but we'll get to that.