Tuesday, January 30, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 3, 2018 (VIDEO)

So okay, up a little early this week... a little shorter too, but really, there was not much to say about this, I've said my piece on Drake too many times.

So okay, next up... hmm, probably close to having enough for Resonators, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 3, 2018

...okay, you know what? I'll say this for Drake: despite him being the biggest story of the week by a mile, there's a certain cold comfort in knowing it came from only two new songs and not twenty. And when Migos are coming next week with the sort of streaming numbers that indicate an album bomb, I'll take whatever the hell I can get!

Monday, January 29, 2018

video review: 'weather or not' by evidence

So this was great... not really much more to say other than, 'it's great hip-hop, go listen to it', but I did go through in detail all the same.

Next up... well, Billboard BREAKDOWN is going to be tumultuous, but beyond that we've got one more review before a new episode of the Trailing Edge, so we'll see!

album review: 'weather or not' by evidence

...ohh, I've been looking forward to this. It's been too long.

See it's funny, Evidence was one of the first rappers I really got into when I started digging into underground hip-hop, first with his work as a producer and then as an MC, be it solo, with frequent collaborator Alchemist as Step Brothers, or most famously with DJ Babu and Rakaa Iriscience in Dilated Peoples, a group that if you're not into the undeground you might remember briefly for a minor hit they had with Kanye in 2004. But at this point, does anyone really remember Evidence more for 'This Way' and not The Platform or Expansion Team, or solo with The Weatherman LP and especially Cats & Dogs? Sure, his delivery is more low-key that most, but I put him in the same category as collaborator and fellow L.A. native LMNO, where the subtler elements of his delivery pull the audience closer and he's a smart and effective MC and producer to back it up. I reviewed two affiliated projects of his in 2014 with Dilated Peoples and Step Brothers, both of which I really liked, but it's been a while since he's run solo - he collaborated with Cookbook in 2016 and produced nearly an entire record for Canadian rapper Madchild, but after over an hour and a half of Migos, this was the sort of hip-hop I wanted to revisit - granted, Evidence records are not short either, but the content was bound to cut much deeper.

And really, I had every reason to expect this was great: he had beats of his own plus some from Alchemist and one from DJ Premier, plus guest appearances from everyone from Slug of Atmosphere to Rapsody and Styles P, plus old friends like Krondon and Rakaa. And considering he was framing this as the capstone to his weather themes explored over the past few records, I had high hopes - were they justified, did Weather Or Not stick the landing?

Sunday, January 28, 2018

video review: 'culture ii' by migos

Oh god, this was a struggle... can't say much positive about it as a whole, but really, I'm amazed I got as much out as I could.

Next up, some hip-hop I actually want to cover - stay tuned!

album review: 'culture ii' by migos

And to think I was starting to come around on these guys...

Well okay, that's unfair: as I've said before, 2017 was the first year I started seeing any appeal in this trio, mostly because their flows and punchlines had evolved to match with production that was steadily becoming more interesting. They weren't making complex music, but there's a place for that sort of sound and vibe in hip-hop and providing the hooks and delivery were sharp, I'm willing to praise them. And while I was lukewarm on 'MotorSport', I really like 'Stir Fry' as a single, mostly because it highlighted where the trio could take their sound going forward, there was potential there...

And then in rapid succession it seemed like Migos started fumbling. Offset dropped a verse that many have read as homophobic for no discernible reason - not the first time with these guys either - but what looked a little worrisome was that there was little information released about their upcoming project Culture II; hell, up until the night before we didn't even have a track list! And then the album was released, and the backlash began in earnest. Not for the content, but for the album's length: twenty-four tracks, 106 minutes, over an hour and a half of Migos. Even diehard fans were wary about this much from the group, because even in the era of No Limit or the bloated mid-2000s where hour-long projects became the norm, this was excess. And I'll admit right out of the gate this was going to be an uphill battle for me - I didn't cover the first culture because most of it wound up on Billboard BREAKDOWN anyway, but this could well be a breaking point for the modern, short-attention span listener, especially as this wasn't a concept record and probably couldn't earn its length - hell, at least when Big K.R.I.T. released 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time it could easily be split in two and he was exploring a variety of themes and sounds, which isn't exactly in Migos' playbook. But hey, I could be wrong: what did I get on Culture II?

Friday, January 26, 2018

resonators 2018 - episode #001 - 'damaged' by black flag - video review

You know, I'm really damn proud of this - I put in a ton of work and research, and why I can imagine my take might be a little dicey, I think it came out well. Enjoy!

resonators 2018 - episode #001 - 'damaged' by black flag - album review

So when I originally proposed the idea behind this new series and the five genres of which I was looking to explore, this was not the one I expected to win out. I figured k-pop would be catnip to the diehard fans, or that 2000s underground hip-hop would win out because it was one of the first genres to really leverage the internet effectively and develop a persistent fanbase to this day. And yet when the votes were finally tallied and we were left with this... well, suffice to say I was intrigued, especially because my challenge was now twofold: not only was it a genre with which my familiarity wasn't quite as deep, but also one to which I've struggled with for some time now. 

But here's where we are, so let me take you all back over thirty-five years to the very beginning of the 1980s - and for many in the underground the situation looks bleak indeed. Punk rock may not have died the fiery death of progressive rock at the end of the previous decade, but it's hard not to see a similar fate on the horizon. Many have pivoted into post-punk and the mutating goth rock scene, another subset has signed to major labels and would become new wave. Still others would embracing tones with more brightness and color and become pop punk, although it would take many years before that sound could truly explode in the mainstream. But as early as the late 70s there was a splinter group away from those bands opting for more polished sounds, wanting to go faster, harder, perhaps not embrace all of the hard-left politics of the anarcho-punk communes but certainly fall more on that spectrum. This was a sound driven out of suburban angst and a recession triggered by Reaganite/Thatcher-era politics, devoted to DIY deconstructionism that would spawn the mosh pit and the straight edge movement, to say nothing of countless clashes with police. A sound that would inspire everything from metalcore to grunge to emo, this is Resonators, exploring 80s hardcore punk - and there's no place to start this series than one of the most critically beloved album in the genre's history: the 1981 debut record from Black Flag, Damaged.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

video review: 'poet|artist' by JONGHYUN

So this is one of those reviews where I literally have no idea how it's going to be received. I'd like to think well, but really with fandoms these days, who the hell knows...

Anyway, with schedule voting still running I have no idea what I'll be covering next, so I'm just going to work on Resonators instead - stay tuned!

album review: 'poet|artist' by JONGHYUN

So I knew that as soon as I even referenced k-pop as a possibility in my Resonators series, it would be only a matter of time before a k-pop album showed up on my schedule - frankly, I'm surprised it hasn't been sooner, given the genre's devout fanbase. And yet there's a part of me that wishes it wasn't this record to start things off.

Some context, for those who don't know: JONGHYUN, the stage name of Kim Jong-Hyun, was formerly a member of the massive k-pop boy band SHINee, who blew up in the late 2000s blending in elements of contemporary R&B into the traditional boy band stock type. But it didn't surprise me when JONGHYUN started releasing solo projects - he was considered the lead of SHINee and having revisited those solo compilations and debut album, I can see why he had potential. As much as SHINee has embraced elements of more reserved j-pop to flesh out their sound, JONGHYUN was just as reserved and tasteful, pivoting into the sort of mid-2000s R&B that you'd hear from a guy like Ne-Yo or maybe Usher, albeit preferring more grooves driven off of warmer acoustic instrumentation or touches of lush 90s R&B or even g-funk. Even if the writing that I could translate didn't really wow me, I thought this guy had talent, he could have certainly been a solo success story in k-pop...

And I say 'could have' because in December of 2017, JONGHYUN died of toxic smoke inhalation in a death that's widely been considered a suicide, something that deeply shook idol culture in South Korea and provided another serious note in the conversation about the hyper-competitive nature of the k-pop industry. And thus covering this record, which was to be released in January 2018 with writing, production, and promotion nearly done before JONGHYUN's death... well, it's awkward. Hell, all posthumous records are, and I wouldn't cover this as a matter of principle if I felt that the money from it was going to anyone beyond JONGHYUN's family to create a foundation, which it is. So, was this a proper send-off?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

video review: 'i can feel you creep into my private life' by tune-yards

I'm not going to lie, I didn't really expect to like this... but I do think the conversation got interesting, and if anyone is going to claim I'm a blind SJW... well, yeah, that was never the case, and this is a hefty stack of evidence. 

Next up... whoo boy, this'll be a tough one, so stay tuned!

album review: 'i can feel you creep into my private life' by tune-yards

So I have a... let's call it complicated relationship with Tune-Yards, and I'm genuinely surprised the group is not more controversial among some circles. For one, if you're looking for a band that embraces a very pronounced social justice angle in their themes tune-yards will deliver, but dig a little deeper and you find a scattershot approach to songwriting that doesn't always do those ideas justice. And that's before you get the cultural appropriation conversation that has hovered around their aesthetic and production despite how you'd think graduates from New England art schools would know better. Or to put it another way, I don't think WHOKILL or Nikki Nack would have gotten nearly the same critical acclaim if they were released today in comparison to 2011 and 2014, and while I find the backlash against SJWs incredibly tedious and overdone, I'm self-aware enough to enjoy shots at Lena Dunham when she rightly deserves it, and Tune-Yards aren't far behind.

Now while I brought up all of that in my review four years ago, the larger truth is that I haven't given Tune-Yards much thought at all, mostly because they never brought any significant edge or potent melody to their sound that would draw me back. I got why a lot of critics liked them, but they were never really my thing and thus I was prepared to skip over this project altogether... until I heard two interesting revelations. One, frontwoman Merrill Garbus apparently rediscovered a love for house and disco music in the past four years, so there could be more of a defined melody to these tunes - and two, apparently those cultural appropriation comments got to Garbus and there were points where she overcorrects, and you can bet I wasn't going to miss a chance to riff on some of that! But I'll save that for the review - what did we get on the oh-so-awkwardly titled i can feel you creep into my private life?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 27, 2018 (VIDEO)

My god, this was a messy week... and honestly, I think the thumbnail kind of captures that, admittedly not one of my best. 

Next up... hmm, it could be interesting, let's see!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 27, 2018

It feels weird when, for once, my predictions are actually mostly right on the money. Granted, they were pretty obvious predictions in who was going to #1 or was going to fall out of the top 10 or even some gains and loses - and if I were to say this week that both Drake songs are going to chart next week, that's not going to blow any minds - but still, it's an odd feeling, especially when there are songs coming up that look pretty damn promising!

Monday, January 22, 2018

video review: 'ruins' by first aid kit

So it looks like I'm going to be in the minority big time with this one just being lukewarm on it instead of more excited... eh, I wish I liked it more, I'll be very honest about that!

Anyway, next up is Billboard BREAKDOWN and who knows what sort of wackiness is to come after, so stay tuned!

album review: 'ruins' by first aid kit

Can you believe it's been four years since the last First Aid Kit album? Can you believe it's been a decade since they first gained a bit of virality with that Fleet Foxes cover on YouTube before becoming the sort of folk act that can move a truly surprising amount of units - seriously, the fact that Stay Gold moved around two hundred thousand copies in 2014 kind of blows my mind. And part of it is that First Aid Kit don't really seem to attract huge buzz, not quite blowing your mind but building real groundswell as they expand their sound.

And to be fair, it's not like the sisters duo went away - throughout the past several years they've been releasing covers and tributes and singles and touring extensively, bringing on another new drummer and even a keyboardist/trombone player for their backing band last year. Now this didn't surprise me much - given the sounds that are becoming more prevalent in the modern folk and alternative country scene, this could well be an interesting expansion, especially if they played more in country tones. What definitely caught more of my interest was a change in producers, swapping out Mike Mogis for Tucker Martine, who has worked with everyone from The Decemberists to Modest Mouse to Spoon to R.E.M. to even that case/lang/veirs project that was underrated by entirely too many people! So with a veteran further guiding the sound, coming off of Stay Gold - which going back to it now is really just as great as it was four years ago - I had high hopes for this - did Ruins live up to it?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

video review: 'm a n i a' by fall out boy

Okay, let's be honest, you all expected this. I'm not sure you'll expect my final conclusions or how it's presented, but on a broad level, you could see this coming.

Eh, it happens. Next up, something better, so stay tuned!

album review: 'M A N I A' by fall out boy

We all knew this was coming. Ever since 'Young & Menace' was released failed to notch any real success, we all that sinking feeling of exactly what Fall Out Boy was going to do with this album, and when it was delayed from mid-September of last year to now...

Hell, let's put all of that aside and just consider Fall Out Boy's progression since they reunited. Going back to it Save Rock And Roll is a glorious mess and it definitely pushes its obnoxious middle finger to an audience that abandoned it, but the hooks and tunes were there, even if they threw away many of the pop rock tones that made them in the mid-2000s. But hell, they were doing that in 2008, and despite some truly questionable creative decisions, Fall Out Boy had a project that held together in concept and execution... something I can't say about American Beauty/American Psycho. And again, that's not a bad project either, but as I said when I reviewed it, it had the feel of a 'now what' record, a band successfully regaining their clout in the mainstream only to find no more mountains to climb, which led to even more slapdash production and writing as well as a continued infatuation with hip-hop on that mixtape Make America Psycho Again that doesn't make anyone sound good. Thankfully just enough of the rock edge was still there to keep the music mostly compelling, but just as so many acts have sacrificed that tone to remain relevant, I knew Fall Out Boy's turn would come - hell, they had been on the cusp for multiple projects now!

And with 'Young & Menace', I knew that moment had come: the sellout, where like Maroon 5 and Linkin Park before them their distinctive sound would be sacrificed for a chance of mainstream success... that didn't happen. Yeah, not going to lie, the failure of that song and Fall Out Boy returning to the studio gave me a bit of hope that maybe they had seen the precipice and had swiveled away in time. But I was also being realistic: we weren't going to get another PAX AM Days or even something close to what Andy Hurley is doing with Sect right now, it was going to a pop project with rock elements rather than the other way around. So with that in mind... is this salvageable?

Saturday, January 20, 2018

video review: 'really nice guys' by ron gallo

Man, I'm so happy I got to cover this before (sigh) Fall Out Boy... and yeah, of course that's next on the docket. Stay tuned!

album review: 'really nice guys' by ron gallo

At this point of his career, you can tell Ron Gallo is simply enjoying the practice of screwing with our expectations - and boy, does he want you to know it. His last project HEAVY META was half targeted at the gentrified faux-hipster Gen-X and millennial crowd falling in line... and half-targeted at himself for being not far from that crowd himself. He's smart enough to earn his nasal obnoxiousness, but doesn't spare himself from the crosshairs with his dry sarcasm and some genuine fury lurking beneath - and when you factor in he's pairing it with some of the best garage rock in recent years, it should be no surprise at all he wound up on multiple year-end lists from me.

And so when I hear he put out an EP called Really Nice Guys, you know deep down he's going to be taking the piss out of that archetype and sound amazing doing it, stripping out the gratuitous moments that might have dragged on HEAVY META for something ruthlessly effective - so yeah, of course I was going to cover this as soon as I could, especially if it was to be a quick listen. So how was it?

Friday, January 19, 2018

video review: 'blue madonna' by BØRNS

Well, this should be way better than it is... gah, it happens, I guess, but still, I'm not sure that Lana influence is doing him any favours.

Fortunately, the next act uses all his momentum to fantastic effect even if the project is short, so stay tuned!

album review: 'blue madonna' by BØRNS

The more I think about BØRNS as an artist, the more I get the impression there is less to think about than I'm assuming, that he's actually less interesting than he might appear. 

Granted, some of this is not helped by me covering his debut Dopamine a full year after it was released for my anniversary in 2016, where he felt all the more out of place in the larger context of the year. But even with that there's a part of me suspicious that the image and flair was more compelling that BØRNS himself would ever be, considering he didn't quite play to his strengths as a singer and he had a bad tendency to indulge in production gimmicks and lyrics that felt increasingly hollow in their hyperstylized Americana, especially considering there was often a rock-solid glam and pop rock core to many of his compositions. It was a good project, but it's not one I found all that memorable just a year and a half later.

And thus I was skeptical about Blue Madonna - I drew comparisons to him sounding a little in his delivery and content and production like Lana Del Rey, and look who has two guest appearances on this project! And when you consider he pruned away all other producers and cowriters besides Tommy English, it was hard to avoid the feeling he might be doubling down on influences that didn't always flatter him, but could result in a more focused experience overall. And hey, Lana Del Rey has steadily been getting more tolerable, maybe this would be pretty stylish or fun, right?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

video review: 'offerings' by typhoon

So I'm not making any fans with this review... but then again, I said that right at the very beginning, I'm not surprised here.

Right, so next up is BØRNS, and that'll be coming tomorrow... then probably some quick Ron Gallo as I start work on the next top ten, so stay tuned!

album review: 'offerings' by typhoon

Oh, I'm not going to make any fans with this review. 

And part of this starts with an observation about the increased commercialization of indie rock, because there's really two distinct schools of it nowadays. You have the roughscrabble upstarts where if they get any crossover appeal it comes by fluke, where the textures or vocals or presentation or content might be offkilter or abrasive, but there's something about it all that sticks, usually in the fine details of great compositions or smart writing or just a damn solid understand of their strengths.

And on the flip side you have the indie groups that are flagged as 'indie' because they're just quirky enough to not fit mainstream pop or rock but safe enough to play for your average gentrified afternoon beer-run and picnic in the park. You know the groups, the ones that a decade ago would be called adult alternative and will be soundtracking comfortable middle-brow sitcoms and commercials for a steady paycheque - and that's not always a bad thing, for the record. Hell, I'd probably put The National in this category, and they're a genuinely terrific band even despite that last record - but I always get worried when I start hearing about groups in this vein branded as 'experimental' or 'progressive', because more often than not they're labels used for cheap marketing to disguise pretentiousness or a lack of cohesion while never being truly challenging. And even then, it can still work - look at Elbow, even though I'd argue they're more just straight progressive rock - but on the flip side you get acts like alt-J, and the group we're discussing today, Typhoon. They broke out in the very early 2010s and I can emphatically say I'm not a fan, mostly because they have the sound of a profoundly boring and stuffy group that tried to substitute wonky song structures for depth and experimentation. Some critics tried to compare them to Arcade Fire for their massive lineup - they have a horns and strings section - but it holds shockingly little water to me, mostly because even at Arcade Fire's most pretentious and least earnest they could still write a decent hook or had some interesting production. With Typhoon it always felt way too clean and sanitized, with the content on records like White Lighter trying to bring an edge but with no clear idea how to do so in production or composition - out of nowhere tempo shifts and transitions don't always make you progressive; without a foundation, you're just obtuse.

So yeah, not a fan, but apparently their newest record was their most ominous and sonically demanding, so either someone in the band decided to grow some testicles or a spine and they had somehow managed to stick the landing on this fourteen track, seventy minute album, or it was going to be the biggest mess they ever made. So, what did we get?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 20, 2018 (VIDEO)

So for as short as this is, it actually wound up going up pretty late... hey, what I can say, I was busy.

But not enough that something might be dropping early this evening, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 20, 2018

I feel like this week is close to the flip side of the coin to the last - and I'm honestly not sure if that's better overall. Where last week the Top 10 was fairly static with a huge amount of upward movement and no significant losses - with a relatively small number of new arrivals - this week the top ten saw major disruption, the gains were pretty modest, and the losses and dropouts were quite significant... all with a relatively small number of new arrivals. Now, whether this makes this week better remains to be seen, but I'd argue it does seem to be a return to form, and thus is a little more interesting overall.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

movie review: 'paddington 2' (VIDEO)

Well, this was a sweet little movie... and I think the last post for tonight. I need a little more time to finish editing for Typhoon, so thus Billboard BREAKDOWN is likely up next - stay tuned!

video review: 'encore' by anderson east

And here's the first video of the night... man, I wish I liked this a bit more. It happens, and it's still a damn good project too.

Next up, a movie review - stay tuned!

album review: 'encore' by anderson east

There's a part of me that thinks it's a little ironic that only days after releasing my top ten best hit songs of 1967 I'm now talking about Anderson East in 2018, and if you saw that list and my lengthy discussion surrounding white people cribbing from black music, you might see why.

Granted, the conversation about this brand of R&B and blue-eyed soul is complicated and has been for decades, with some highlighting it as conducive to cooperation while others consider it cultural appropriation, that dread phrase that's bound to make my comment section just a joy to behold. Of course, with blue-eyed soul you could make the argument it's more about cultural exchange and there's a certain code that should be understood by the artist: if you're going to use that sound, understand the history, bring respect, help to elevate those who pioneered the sound as much as you can, and you better not suck. And thankfully Anderson East seems to get this: his breakthrough came in 2015 with the album Delilah, produced by Dave Cobb and even partially recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which made sense for the hardscrabble blend of Americana and southern soul he was making. Of course, you all might know him better for two things: one, he's currently dating Miranda Lambert and showed up on her 2016 project The Weight Of These Wings, and two, he was also on one of the most fiery tracks on Southern Family, the Dave Cobb-produced compilation that was one of two records I've ever given a perfect 10 on my channel. Suffice to say with his release this year the expectations were high, and considering how good the critical buzz was, they had every reason to be. So, with the hope that we can redeem this album title from Eminem's critically reviled 2004 record, what did we get with Encore?

Monday, January 15, 2018

video review: 'camila' by camila cabello

Well, this was inconsistent... and disappointing. But really, I'm not all that surprised...

Beyond that, next up is Billboard BREAKDOWN, Anderson East, and hopefully Paddington 2 soon, so stay tuned!

album review: 'camila' by camila cabello

So there's an unspoken and kind of uncomfortable truth about a lot of pop music: while it helps to have talent, if you're in the right place at the right time with the right people, it doesn't matter if you do or not, you're going to find success. Hell, on average you'll probably get even more famous than folks who have talent but are lacking in either the place, timing, or people department - and thus on that note, Camila Cabello.

Okay, that's really mean, I admit it - but there's also always been some truth to it and not just about her - hell, more than I think a lot of people want to admit. I remember both of my Fifth Harmony reviews when Camila was with the group and she was always the weakest link, both as a singer and an interesting pop personality, and when she left I thought Fifth Harmony got better on their self-titled release - and yeah, I realize I'm pretty much the only one who thought that, but I stand by it. And when Camila Cabello started releasing singles and collaborations, I was fully expecting her to flame out like other girl group acts going solo - I'm not too young to forget Nicole Scherzinger and what happened to the Pussycat Dolls. 

But then 'Havana' happened - and I remember what I said when I reviewed the song on Billboard BREAKDOWN, it was the first time I actually had a hope that Camila could release something worthwhile... but when you have nine cowriters including Pharrell, you can almost hear the pop machinery muscling this into becoming a hit - as much as people don't want to admit it, the system can still do that. And thus it was only a matter of time before we got a new album - short enough that it probably didn't cost too much, even though it's not like Syco spends money on producers anyway, but also released in mid-January when there's literally no competition and if it flops they could cut their losses. Now if you can't tell, I was not expecting to like this, especially coming with the forgettable follow-up single 'Never Be The Same' - but hey, 'Havana' was a good surprise, this could be too, right?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

the top ten best hit songs of 1967 (VIDEO)

Ooh wow, this was a ton of work (and I'm a little annoyed so many of the transitions fucked up, GAH), but I'm still pretty proud of it all the same.

Okay, next up, back to something from this year - stay tuned!

the top ten best hit songs of 1967

So when I added the 'top ten' option on Patreon, I was expecting that certain years would attract more attention than others - presumably more recent, if only to flesh out other years in this decade that I've missed, or maybe years that have achieved fame or notoriety for being the best and worst in music history. And thus, I shouldn't be that surprised that a Patron chose this year of all things - after all, from about 1964 to 1969 has been considered by many music historians as a glorious age for popular music, the founding of psychedelic pop and rock, the expansion and growth of soul, the genesis of garage rock and proto-punk, and even birthing tones that would inspire funk, and 1967 was smack in the middle of it all...

And this is where I need to step in and provide some context, because for as much as all of that is true about the era, in looking at what was popular the sheen of baby boomer nostalgia begins to fade, because while 1967 was a pretty damn great year for the Hot 100 - I could easily make a top 30 of this list and still make painful cuts, I wouldn't quite qualify it as one of the all-time best - close, but not all the way there, especially if you're making a comparison to either '66 or '68. Yes, watching psychedelic rock take shape is pretty awesome and there are loads of classics here, and I was actually a little stunned how much terrific soul, jazz, and very early funk managed to slip onto the charts. But this was also the 1960s and the tropes that plagued that era - especially in its early years - are still visible. Yes, we got The Beatles and the summer of love... and all the bands jacking their sound two years late, or dumbing it down into flaccid hippie pablum. Yes, black music was producing terrific records... and white artists were nakedly ripping them off for crossover success. And of course we got the sorts of inane novelty crap and tepid pop and doo-wop leftovers that could flesh out a list of mediocre to outright awful tracks - an era where 'parody' songs or blatant throwbacks could still chart as artists fought against the rapidly changing times. Thankfully, after going through all one hundred songs that charted that year, we're focusing on the positive this time... and are subsequently facing a very new challenge. See, rock historians have been over the 1960s time and time again to canonize so many acts that if my choices buck the popular consensus - and spoilers, some of them will - or if certain songs are left off the list, there'll be folks who'll cry foul that certain 'legendary' songs are not represented. And let me make this clear: I'm not speaking for the institution of rock history, partially because I'm decades removed from ever living that history - this was music made when my parents were kids - but also because as that rock history has proven increasingly selective over the years, maybe a fresh set of eyes can recontextualize this a bit. So, as always the song has to debut on the Hot 100 in 1967, and let's get started with...

Thursday, January 11, 2018

video review: 'TRIDENT WOLF ECLIPSE' by watain

Well, I'm not going to deny this black metal is a little outside my comfort zone... but hey, it actually wound up closer to something I'd like more than I expected. Interesting review, to be sure.

Next up... I'm not sure, we'll see!

album review: 'trident wolf eclipse' by watain

So when I've talked about black metal, I haven't really talked much about record labels - and that's mostly because as a frequently controversial metal subgenre that has remained almost entirely underground, most major labels and distributors don't touch it, and that suits groups just fine. Now on the one hand that can make finding certain black metal records a real pain in the ass, because distribution can be limited and scarce... but on the flip side, if you hear that a black metal group signed to a major label or distributor, more often than not you could give odds that the group will have diluted or diversified their sound.

Now granted, when it came to Swedish black metal act Watain in 2013, some of that you could have predicted already. While their early records did showcase some impressive shredding and a theatrical brand of theistic Satanism - which of course led to the sort of elaborate live show that was intensely controversial - I personally never found them all that challenging or abrasive. The production was always pretty clean, the vocals were never too guttural, and the song structures felt more accessible. And by the time they signed with Century and put out The Wild Hunt, openly dabbling in tones that were more progressive or doom-inspired with even clean vocals, they were primed for that crossover and had the sales to prove it, even the atmosphere, intensity, and writing had taken a bit of a dip along the way... and then close friend of the band and occult rock artist Selim Lemouchi committed suicide. It was a moment that shook the band deeply and drove them back to expanding on the desperate dark empowerment themes that characterized their full-length debut in 2000, a truly nasty little album that might have textures that'll satisfy black metal purists, but really doesn't showcase the refined compositional strengths that would start to come later on Casus Luciferi. So if they were going back to that tone and style as seasoned veterans, this could make for a pretty damn potent listen, right?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

video review: 'ephorize' by cupcakKe

So I feel like I may have surprised some people with this.

Good. Surprises are fun. And on that topic, coming up next... well, it's been too long for a genre like this. Stay tuned!

album review: 'ephorize' by cupcakKe

I should have been a lot more on the ball with CupcakKe.

And I know for a fact that me making that statement will surprise or even confuse some of you, especially if you have only a passing familiarity with this Chicago MC. If you only know her from her image or reputation for making hyper-sexual, confrontational bangers in the vein of a Lil Kim or Missy Elliott or early Nicki Minaj, you might have been inclined to dismiss her as a viral sensation but not having much beyond that. And thus when I started getting requests to cover her third full-length record Ephorize early this year, I was inclined to blow it off... but I didn't have much else on my schedule so I figured I might as well check out her first two records.

And I'm so glad I did, because while she does have some songs that fit this image, CupcakKe is one of the most impressive new MCs I've heard in some time, no question. A ton of charisma and real stage presence, a diverse set of colourful flows that rhyme and connect way more consistently than so many of her male counterparts, and while she might make those provocative sexual songs, she was just as capable of bringing explosive bangers and starkly emotional and vulnerable tracks with real intimate intensity and intellect. Coupled with a fervent desire to remain independent and an uncanny knack for accessible but hard-hitting production, she showed a ton of real potential that I really appreciated. Now I wouldn't quite say I was entirely won over by either Audacious or Queen Elizabitch - both very good projects, for sure, but the former had a few sung hooks that are definitely not CupcakKe's strong suit, and the latter indulged in more trap-leaning production that didn't always flatter her, a little too desaturated and narrowly focused. But all the buzz was suggesting that Ephorize manage to strike the right balance and I wasn't going to miss out this time, so what did we get here?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 13, 2018 (VIDEO)

And here we go... not a great week, but I think it was somewhat interesting overall? Eh, you never know.

Next up... well, the schedule is pretty open-ended, so you never know. Stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 13, 2018

So remember when I said last week I was expecting a slowdown... well, thanks to three factors I'd argue I was probably wrong in that department, because if you're looking a certain shifts in the charts, you might conclude it was a pretty busy. Now that's not entirely the case - indeed, look into the details and you'll see a pretty average or even slower week - but I would say it is more transitory, as the holidays rotate out for whatever's coming.


Well, this was fun. Not sure how many of you are going to be into it, but I'm happy I got to cover it regardless, there's definitely an audience that'd love to hear more of this.

And next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN - stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

album review: 'all posers must die' by sex master

I feel like I should be giving you all some context for this review - and while there's a part of me that wants to just say 'context is for posers' and move on, I at least have to take you back to last Saturday night, January 6, 2018. It's late, it's absolutely freezing outside, but after a long afternoon and editing, I decide to head out to one of my favourite metal bars, where lo and behold there's a tape release party for the newest project from the local duo Sex Master, released by Craniophagus Parasiticus Records.

Now a few disclaimers here: I know both Matt Black and Struan Robertson, the latter who you might recognize as the drummer from Canadian metal group AMMO - they're cool guys, and while I'd say we're more acquaintances than friends, I see them on a regular basis. I'm also acutely aware that Sex Master is a bit of a tough group to categorize: local cult metal icons and definitely talented enough to earn the acclaim they've received, but for those outside of that cult I can see some finding this a tad ridiculous, or perhaps their appeal best understood in a live setting - fitting because this new project was recorded live. And while both statements are probably true, I also need to stress that I'm still bringing my critical due diligence to bear here - after all, I wouldn't want to disparage the awesome might Sex Master by going easy on them or something. So, with all of that established, what did we get on All Posers Must Die?

Monday, January 8, 2018

video review: 'POST-' by jeff rosenstock

And here's the first review of 2018! Looks to be interesting going forward, especially as we've got some more metal waiting in the wings as I polish up that top ten list... but in the mean time, Billboard BREAKDOWN on the way too, so stay tuned!

album review: 'POST-' by jeff rosenstock

So I'm actually a little surprised I didn't get as much backlash as I was expecting for my more political picks on my year-end lists - maybe you're all just used to my point-of-view by now, maybe the records' quality overran the content, or maybe I just haven't pissed off the right set of people yet. But for those of you who are bothered by the politics coming up at all, be you on the left or right... well, look, I'm not sure what to tell you, I think we were all hoping this conversation would have quieted down by now and yet with every passing day it seems to get even louder. And given how certain tax policies are now directly targeting artists in an era of greater economic inequality than ever, you can't expect them to shut up.

Granted, I'm not sure you could shut up a punk rock lifer such as Jeff Rosenstock even if you tried. When WORRY. became a critical darling in 2016 just days before the election, even in the face of a possible Democratic victory you could still hear the pronounced anxiety, how even if they won, gentrification and police brutality and social media obsession and the increased numbness of a weary millennial population wasn't going away, especially in the face of crippling self-awareness of their culpability and flaws. It was a record approaching burnout with the half-drunk determination to keep staggering forward because it couldn't get that bad... and then the election happened. And while to some extent that does lock WORRY. into a very specific context pre-election, it also threw a wide enough net and captured the cultural mood so effectively that did stick around, so it doesn't fade into immediate irrelevance like Common Black America Again did. And really, given how closely attuned Rosenstock's writing felt to his audience, I knew it was only a matter of time before he'd contextualize the insanity of the past year and come back all the stronger. It'd be political, it'd be empathetic, it'd give Rosenstock the space to push his blend of power pop, hardcore punk and even traces of ska into even more places - in short, it's the record I think a lot of people needed to start 2018. And thus, what did we get with POST-?

Saturday, January 6, 2018

trailing edge - episode 001 - 2017 (VIDEO)

Well, this was a TON of work... and overall, pretty damn fun to assemble too, generally happy with how it turned out. Enjoy!

the top 25 best albums of 2017 (VIDEO)

Well, nearly forgot about this one... but not to worry, it's still here. Enjoy!

Next up, the debut of The Trailing Edge - stay tuned!

the top 25 best albums of 2017

Of all the years I've put together year-end lists for albums, this might be the hardest it's been - and believe it or not, it's for the best possible reason: I covered an abundance of incredible music in 2017, arguably more than I ever have before! Even though I didn't give out any perfect scores, this year showed multiple genres giving us the goods, from a revitalized rock scene to several country gems to underground hip-hop making a major resurgence to pop putting forward its best showing in years - and that's not even getting to the genre-defying oddities that utterly blew my mind!

But what this also meant were cuts... in a year where I could put together a top 50 and still feel like I'm leaving stuff off, this was particularly brutal. Once again, I was very tempted to expand this list, but again, I'm highlighting the best of the best, and that means while these could have made it in a weaker year, for 2017 they didn't cut it. I won't deny that hip-hop got hit hard in this, as I really wanted to include records from Quelle Chris, Jay-Z, milo, Armand Hammer, Tyler the Creator, Rapsody, Yelawolf, and yes, Kendrick Lamar on this list and I can't. And queue the outrage by everyone that DAMN. is not making this list, but considering there are  five hip-hop records that beat him out to get here, there isn't room for complaining. And I don't want to hear anything from the indie set either than Father John Misty, Kirin J. Callinan, Spoon, The xx, St. Vincent, and Alvvays missed the cut too - all great records, to be sure, but not quite good or consistent enough. Honestly, the most painful cuts for me came in rock - where Creeper, Chelsea Wolfe, and Ayreon all missed it - and especially country, where Natalie Hemby, Angaleena Presley, Dori Freeman and Chris Stapleton all didn't make it - again, great albums, but limited slots. Finally, we have three records that would have sparked controversy had they landed on the list so there is a part of me they just missed the cut: Jhene Aiko, Brand New, and Niall Horan - although there is another part of me that would love to see everyone's expression if Niall made my year end list and Kendrick didn't.

But again, those are my Honourable Mentions... and now onto the list proper.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

patreon announcement: 2018

Okay, this is a bit of a calculated risk, but I have some high hopes for where this'll go - stay tuned!

the top 50 songs of 2017 (VIDEO)

And there we go. Massive videos, really proud with how they turned out - enjoy!

the top 50 best songs of 2017

I said on Twitter a few months ago that of all of my year-end lists, this one is always the most complicated - because it's by far the most personal. With the constraint of a list of hits or talking about records in aggregate, you've manufactured some distance - but if you're just going through the list of the songs that spoke the most to you regardless of whether they were a single or not, there's no separation or barrier.

And when you add to the fact that 2017 was a tumultuous year - not just for me but for most of the world, although I did have my own share of trying times - it's a little unnerving to go through the cutting process and realize how dark it truly got. There isn't much escapism in this top 50, and what escapism does show up is very much colored by consequences waiting in the wings. I'm not saying it's downbeat - in comparison to the melancholy that colored a lot of last year, there are more pronounced moments of joy and triumph - but it is by far the most unsettled, pulling the least punches and ultimately producing a psychological profile of my year in 2017 I'm still not quite sure what to do with. But hey, all of these came from albums I covered this year, and I wouldn't have spent a month pruning this list to its form now if I didn't have faith in it - even though I can guarantee there'll be a fair few conspicuous entries that aren't here if you're comparing to other critical lists. So let's get this started...

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 6, 2018 (VIDEO)

And here's the episode from today, which... again, it's an episode. Transcripts for a few year-end lists are on their way out soon!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 3, 2018 (VIDEO)

I am disturbingly behind in updating things here, but yeah, this was an episode. Enjoy?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 6, 2018

There are only three names that matter on today's Hot 100. Sure, you could talk about how a bunch of old 2017 hits got their final wind, or how Christmas music seemed to linger a week longer than I personally expected, but the real story to open this week - with the date slightly revised because Billboard is bringing things closer in sync with their tracking week - belong to three people: Travis Scott and Quavo under their duo name 'Huncho Jack', and Cardi B, who seems to be pushing hard to extend her success into 2018.