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!

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

So before we get into this in earnest, we need to start with a certain Facebook meme I've seen spreading around - no, before you click away, there's a point to this, I swear. Basically it was one of those twin pictures with bottom text that shows what you think you're doing versus what you're actually doing, one with a guy sensitively explaining at length something... and the other a picture from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia with Charlie losing his mind next to his conspiracy board from the episode 'Sweet Dee Has A Heart Attack in Season 4. The tagline was guys talking about music, and the band referenced in a speech bubble for such a sensitive explanation... was King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.

Now one could argue it's a meme that is targeted at how music nerds will try to explain at length music nobody knows to the indifference of male or female company alike - which yes, of course I've been there - but to offer a counterpoint, I'm not sure there's an easy way to explain King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard to anyone without sounding insane. They're a seven piece Australian psychedelic rock act that has put out eleven full-length records since 2012 that have careened from garage punk to progressive rock and all manner of high concept wildness - the sort of band that almost demands the sort of nerd-heavy cult following and at some point will disappear directly up their own asses if they don't burn out. And since over the past few days I've marathoned through their discography, what do I think? Well, as I've said in the past, I'm a sucker for great psychedelic rock and tacking on elements of blues, country and desert rock will only hook me more, and while I might hold a pretty big soft spot for the spaghetti western-inspired concept album Eyes Like The Sky, the essentials here are the heavier grooves I'm In Your Mind Fuzz, the remarkably charming folk weirdness of Paper Mache Dream Balloon, and of course the pretty damn terrific and ridiculously catchy psych-metal powerhouse of Nonagon Infinity, which probably would have had a shot to make my year-end list last year if I had taken the time to actually review it. But King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard was aiming even higher for 2017, aiming to release five records this year - and look, I get nervous whenever an artist threatens to release two albums a year, and as much as I like this band, I was not remotely convinced they could churn out that much consistent quality that couldn't be crafted into one stellar record. And here's the weird thing: early this year in February they put out Flying Microtonal Banana and I actually really liked it - maybe a shade away from true greatness, but the usage of microtones gave the record really fascinating melodies and for a band that has such a strength for hooks as they do, it opened a wealth of potential going forward. But then Murder Of The Universe happened and was a lot less structured or interesting, and when I heard that they were collaborating with Mild High Club and it was trending towards 70s AM rock... look, that's a genre I tend to appreciate more than I probably should but that's not really what I want to hear from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard! But who knows, it could be another Paper Mache Dream Balloon, so what did this translate to on Sketches of Brunswick East?

video review: 'kids in love' by kygo

My god I'm bad at remember to cross-post these videos... whatever, the record is still a lot of fun, enjoy!

Friday, November 10, 2017

album review: 'kids in love' by kygo

So I rarely talk about other critical opinions in my reviews, mostly because I don't tend to read many other reviews before my own and I don't want bias creeping in. I'm going to make an exception to this here, specifically in reference to Cloud Nine, the debut album from the Norwegian DJ Kygo that I reviewed last year. You might not know this, but it was one of the more critically derided records of 2016, certainly accruing lower scores than many would expect for a lightweight tropical house debut. And believe it or not, I'm not surprised by this: mainstream critical outlets need some punching bags, so instead of taking it out on inept bro-country or endlessly regurgitated trap or - god forbid - an act that other critics actually liked - why not go after a tropical house DJ little known stateside who can serve as an easy trendy target that won't fight back?

And let me make this clear: some of the criticisms of Cloud Nine are valid - it's overlong, the quality of guest stars is all over the place, it can feel incredibly thin at points, and overall the individual songs don't stand out as much as they should. But on the flip side it was a record that grew on me a fair bit throughout the summer of 2016, and most of that goodwill came down to Kygo himself: a sharp producer with good tastes in tone and groove that knew how to build a breezy likable vibe, which by the low standards many judge this genre was all he was looking to do! Hell, the fact that it managed to get a passable performance from Julia Michaels on 'Carry Me' should be worth noting at least - but then came 2017 and the Selena Gomez crossover that showed Kygo sharpening this talents. Not to spoil too much, but 'It Ain't Me' is one of the best hit songs of 2017 easily, and if Kygo could bring that talent for hooks to his new record, with guest vocals from John Newman, OneRepublic, Ellie Goulding, and plenty more, I was actually excited, especially as it seemed like he tightened things up, even despite including all the songs from his Stargazing EP from earlier this year. So what did I get with Kids In Love?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

video review: 'dangerous jumps' by SHREDDERS

Well... it's still good, I just wish I liked it a fair bit more than I do. Meh, it happens.

Next up, though... well, this should be interesting. Stay tuned!

album review: 'dangerous jumps' by SHREDDERS

Oh, you thought I was going to miss this, or that because this is very much a between-albums-side-project that it would be a lower priority?

Well, to be completely truthful, up until very recently SHREDDERS wasn't really on my radar. I knew that P.O.S and Sims were working with Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger on something, but I assumed it would be an EP or something, or maybe a few scattered singles until Dessa put out her next full-length project or they started work on another Doomtree record. And if anything it felt a little too soon - while I hadn't loved P.O.S's chill, dummy it wasn't even a year old yet, and given how Sims' More Than Ever remains one of the best hip-hop records of 2016, I would have thought it would have a little more solo shelf life.

But then again, I'm not complaining about a new project from this crew, because hip-hop has had a weird 2017. There's been too many great records to call it a bad year, but it seems like the gulf in quality between said records and much of the rest that got hype and popularity is vast. That feeling of strangeness, coupled with only two hip-hop records I'd say are outright incredible in 2017 - those being Brick Body Kids Still Daydream by Open Mike Eagle and Run The Jewels 3, and the latter barely even qualifies - means that I was eager for something out of the Doomtree collective, if only to bring in a sound with consistent, hard-hitting quality and real lyrical punch. And while Dessa wasn't on it and P.O.S can frustrate me as an MC, Sims is currently surging on a creative roll and I really wanted to see where he'd take his bars. So, what did I find on Dangerous Jumps?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

video review: 'texoma shore' by blake shelton

I honestly don't think anybody gave a shit about this record. Including Blake, really, because the bad tracks really do feel like they outweigh the good here...

Anyway, hopefully we'll get to SHREDDERS next, so stay tuned!

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

So apparently this was not my most well-edited video in the world... sigh, it happens, but I do wish this was better and there weren't blatant mistakes.

And speaking of records that might as well be mistakes...

album review: 'texoma shore' by blake shelton

So here's the frustrating thing about writing this review: if you are not a Blake Shelton fan or peripherally interested in mainstream country, I have no idea what I could say to make this interesting. Let's face it, Blake Shelton is on his eleventh album, he cowrote only one of eleven songs on it, and with the lead-off single and set of cowriters he has, I had no reason to expect anything new or challenging. It wasn't like Bringing Up The Sun, where there was a very real question how he could pivot out of bro-country, or like If I'm Honest, where the only real reason I wanted to cover it was the fallout of his failed marriage to Miranda Lambert and what he was building with Gwen Stefani. 

But this time, he explicitly said he wanted this album to reflect 'where he is now, that's just happy and going with the flow'. In other words, going into Texoma Shore this felt like a record where Blake Shelton was just punching the clock - it was shorter, it looked to be heading back to his adult-contemporary style that made for pleasant and sedate but not really interesting music, it had the feel of an artist just looking to coast - hell, he's even using the same producer! So in other words, I'm probably going to end up repeating some things I said in my last two Blake Shelton reviews, but you know, even if he's not trying I might as well give this my due diligence, so what did I find on Texoma Shore?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 18, 2017

Okay, second last week of the Billboard year, where the final list of songs that have a shot of clinching a spot narrows all the further... and where one album smash made an utterly exasperating non-impact on the Hot 100, somehow we got even less when Without Warning by Offset, 21 Savage, and Metro Boomin crashed through this week. Now again, how much any of this will matter in a few weeks when the rest of Taylor Swift's reputation destroys everything in its path, I can't tell you, but for now, I wouldn't put money on the Hot 100 remaining stable, even into next week.

Monday, November 6, 2017

video review: 'take me apart' by kelela

Ehhh... man, I wish I liked this more. It happens, I guess, but still, kind of disappointing.

Okay, so either Shredders or Blake Shelton (sigh) next, but we've also got Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'take me apart' by kelela

I'll be honest: I should have covered this weeks ago. And while if we were to go back to 2014 I'd say my prior ambivalence was due to my general unfamiliarity and distaste for certain tropes in R&B, that's changed over the past three years, thanks to me covering a fair amount more in this genre and finding styles and sounds I really liked.

But let me be honest, the reason I was not more on the ball with this album was a lot more human and mildly more embarrassing: because somewhere in my brain wires got crossed and I kept thinking that Kelela was Kehlani, another R&B act who released her full-length debut this year and with whom I was a lot more familiar thanks to a number of guest appearances... which was also a record I missed covering. Now I did listen to SweetSexySavage - it's okay, a few good songs let down by more filler than it needed and some frustrating production choices - but again, I'm getting off track here because Kelela is a very different performer, even if their career trajectories fit a similar timeline. From the guest appearances I did hear from Kelela, she was going in a far less commercial direction, signed to Warp and working with Gorillaz and Solange and Danny Brown. And her own musical background is a lot more eclectic - she started off singing in jazz and even a progressive metal group before switching to more alternative, electronic R&B. In other words, when you factor in the critical acclaim and the line-up of producers and songwriters she was working with - the names that jumped out at me were Ariel Rechtshaid, Romy Croft of The xx, and Arca - this was bound to be a fascinating listen, so what did I find on Take Me Apart?

video review: '4eva is a mighty long time' by big k.r.i.t.

So yeah, excellent record, so easy to recommend - an easy sell for fans but really I can see this having tons of crossover appeal if properly marketed. Also, it's a ton of fun.

Next up, though, some old business... and it might be disappointing to a bunch of you. Stay tuned!

album review: '4eva is a mighty long time' by big k.r.i.t.

I've always been of the opinion that Big K.R.I.T. should be so much bigger than he is.

And really, from the more people I've talked to, that's not an uncommon opinion: Big K.R.I.T. seemed like the guy destined to propel his career to the stars, driven off of mixtapes that could often been perceived as dynamic and potent records in their own right. Huge hooks, sharp writing that drew upon Southern hip-hop traditions without ever feeling like a gimmick or old-fashioned, and he produced the majority of it himself with enough flash and polish to court the radio, Big K.R.I.T. showed incredible versatility and promise, and when he got signed by Def Jam, everyone thought it would be his ticket to the top...

And that didn't happen. In fact, if I were to look at utterly tragic missteps in hip-hop management, it would be that Big K.R.I.T. never took off in the mid 2010s the way he should - and yes, you could make the argument that those major label projects were not as good as the mixtapes - in that they were decent to really good but never quite great - but I've covered entirely too much mediocre music that's impacted the Hot 100, whoever was promoting or managing him screwed this up big time. So it was no surprise when Big K.R.I.T. and Def Jam parted ways in 2016, keeping the mixtapes steady as he prepared a double album of material for independent release. Now to some extent I was a little concerned about this - to me double albums are always a risky proposition, especially if it becomes clear it could have been cut down. And the truth is that between the albums and mixtapes Big K.R.I.T. has put out a lot of solid material that has nevertheless done plenty to fill and nearly saturate his lane, and there was a part of me that felt for this to really stand out and resonate it had to be a home run for him, a swing for the fences, really elevate his sound to his best. So did we get it?

video review: 'five' by hollywood undead

Well, unsurprising to anyone, this is garbage... but really, did we have any reason to expect otherwise?

Next up, something MUCH better, stay tuned!

Friday, November 3, 2017

album review: 'five' by hollywood undead

So if it isn't unbelievably obvious, I didn't want to cover this. More importantly, I have no idea why anybody wanted me to cover this - I'd like to think my Patrons watch my reviews and aren't just adding records to fill space on the schedule, and the fact that this consistently got so many votes utterly baffles me.

But I don't want to mince words here with this: Hollywood Undead sucks. As someone who likes good metal and good hip-hop and can tolerate some crossover between the two and even appreciates a good horrorcore gimmick, this is the sort of group I would have avoided like the plague, because, as I keep on saying, I never had an angry white boy phase! And after I listened through all of their last albums, that's really the only demographic I can see somewhat appreciating this, even ironically. The best way to describe their first record was trying to split the difference between Eminem and Linkin Park, but the rapping was nowhere close to as good, the clean singing was a poor imitation of Chester Bennington at best, and the production has aged particularly badly. They got a bit heavier on their second record, but the clean singing and rapping somehow got worse and I found their blend of meat-headed flexing and flimsy shock tactics to almost reach the point of parody. To someone who listens to far nastier hip-hop and metal, this doesn't shock me, but unlike Marilyn Manson or Eminem, there was no depth or skill or potent fire to outlast the shock tactics, and the ballads might be some of the most embarrassing music I've heard all year - how anyone can justify a song like 'Bullet', I have no idea. And from there... look, no matter how many bargain-barrel Skrillex-ripoff effects you add to subsequent records, it doesn't make the writing any less walking cringe! The best thing is that if you completely tune out anything these guys are saying, the production can go in a somewhat interesting direction with a decent hook or groove, but that's not saying much. So forgive me when I say I had no expectations for this new record, which reportedly was taking things in a completely new direction... yeah, I'll believe it when I hear it. So what happened on Five?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

video review: 'meaning of life' by kelly clarkson

And we aren't out of the woods with these reviews yet... it's coming tomorrow, stay tuned!

album review: 'meaning of life' by kelly clarkson

Okay, let's try this again.

For those of you who don't know, when I covered Piece By Piece by Kelly Clarkson in 2015 I was, to put it mildly, underwhelmed. It wasn't that it was precisely bad, but it certainly was forgettable and sloppily produced and often poorly written to boot, the sort of record that really didn't add anything new or interesting to the pop culture conversation. It really only was redeemed by the fact that Clarkson remains a great singer to this day, but it's not like the production or compositions flattered her as much as they could, and the second you compare this to what she was doing in the mid-2000s... well, one of the phrases I used was 'sell-out', but in truth any sort of greater unique artistic ideal went out the window after My December underperformed ten years ago.

And you know, I got a lot of crap for those statements. I stand by them, but I also think something was missed: namely, when Kelly Clarkson gets good material she's a tremendous pop singer. I put her in a similar category to Demi Lovato in that they're both singers with huge voices that sound better in rock than R&B or soul or gospel, but if the pop song is great I'll take it, as I did when her cover of 'It's Quiet Uptown' from The Hamilton Mixtape made my year-end list of the best songs of 2016! But I was genuinely worried about Meaning Of Life, not just because she had changed labels but also because if 'Love So Soft' was representative of the artistic pivot she was trying, it was not one that remotely flattered her voice! But my Patrons wanted me to review this, and while there were a few returning producers overall she looked like she had a new team - even despite having only four writing credits on a fourteen song album, but whatever. So how is Meaning Of Life?

video review: 'pacific daydream' by weezer

Well, this was disappointing... eh, it happens.

And on the topic of disappointments... well, stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

album review: 'pacific daydream' by weezer

So as many of you probably know, I didn't like the last Weezer record, another self-titled release otherwise known as the 'white album'. To me I found the lyrical arc undercooked and occasionally very questionable, the delivery underwhelming, and the production to be all over the place, not helped by bringing in producer Jake Sinclair who didn't seem to grasp the melodic subtleties in the groove that have always been Weezer's greatest strength on records like the Blue Album and Pinkerton and Everything Will Be All Right In The End. But I'll also be the first to admit that I was in the minority with that opinion - a lot of folks found something in the white album they liked and for diehard Weezer fans... hey, given what they've gone through over the past twenty years, all the power to them.

So it got me worried when I started hearing the buzz for Pacific Daydream - not just that it had resulted in the shelving of darker material for the rumoured 'black album', but also that it was a more sedate, pop-leaning record, which is about the last direction I think most Weezer fans want them to go. And to get there, they changed producers again to bring in J.R. Rotem and mega-producer Butch Walker, who actually has worked with Weezer before - on Raditude. And when it didn't look like even the critics were on-board this time, I was genuinely worried - and look, I'll never say I'm the biggest Weezer fan, but Rivers Cuomo knows his way around a really good hook. But considering the last time I heard Rivers Cuomo collaborate with a pop band in 2017 it was AJR's The Click, I had very little faith that his pop instincts right now. But okay, what did I find with Pacific Daydream?

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

Well, this was a bizarre week - but I'm mostly pleased with it, to be honest. But next up... whoo boy, none of this looks good, so stay tuned?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 11, 2017

So I've been predicting for some time that the Hot 100 would be hit with a pretty major shift that would knock things loose, really shake up the status quo. And yet somehow I think we got the worst of both worlds with this, with the top ten mostly staying static, the majority of our new arrivals hitting in the bottom half of the Hot 100... and it's all coming from a collaboration between Future and Young Thug. Yes, over half the songs here are from Super Slimey, and whatever else we got... well, we'll get to it.