Monday, April 30, 2018

resonators 2018 - episode #004 - 'bad brains' by bad brains

I think it's time we talk about race in punk music.

Now this is not a comfortable topic, and there are layers and nuance that I'll freely admit that I'm probably not the best guy to talk about beyond looking for the history. And with the history of punk... well, it gets even dicier, especially coming out of the late 70s and how genres were co-mingling and mutating. Of course punk has some of its deepest roots in black music - at its core much of punk utilized traditional rock and roll song structures invented by black musicians - but throughout the 1970s traditionally black musical genres were going in very different directions, from the growth of soul, funk and R&B to the mutation of disco to the very early days of hip-hop. And while black music was getting more opulent and smooth, punk seemed to be heading in the exact opposite direction - although one can make the argument that the sharp political subtext that underlined a lot of soul music and funk music would have had common cause with the punks of the time.

But that doesn't mean there weren't punks of all races within the scene who found common cause with the righteous fury and rough edges of the genre... and this is where we hit another major roadblock and it has to do with a subgenre I referenced a few months back: the Oi! scene. Originally grounded in working class rebellion in the U.K, it was a sound that sadly got co-opted by second wave skinhead culture and hard right, frequently racist groups in the late 70s and early 80s. And while you could definitely make an argument how much of this was fair to the scene or the artists within it, many who could credibly make the argument to being misrepresented, the messy public perception led to ugly assumptions and branding that Oi! bands and even hardcore punks have had to fight to escape for years since, not helped by the street punk and skinhead explosion in the U.S. where the hard-right branding was harder to escape or deny. And with that popular connotation, it's no surprise why black artists might have shied away from the scene, especially in the face of friendlier, no less conscious or political spaces like in early hip-hop.

Of course, there's another side to this, and it leads to another genre that was organic, raw, and often sharply political: reggae. It was a looser subgenre than punk, but throughout the 70s it had flourished and had often received billing and airplay in punk venues. And thus the cross-pollination of genres between the newborn hardcore scene and reggae was only a matter of time, with one group originally making music as a jazz fusion act before amping up the tempos and bringing an distinctly black flavor to hardcore punk, now widely held as one of the most legendary bands of the genre. That's right, we're talking about the 1982 self-titled debut from Bad Brains, and this is Resonators!

album review: 'dirty computer' by janelle monae

I remember referencing Afrofuturism in brief while talking about Janelle Monae's past two records, the underlying Cindi Mayweather stories that have served as a time travelling narrative undercurrent to her stories, taking the tropes and aesthetics of 50s and 60s sci-fi and fusing it with modern language, taking the textures of R&B and soul of the 70s and 80s and bringing them into a swirling, neon genre fusion with rock and modern R&B, and its core was the swirling, magnetic charisma of Janelle Monae...

And there's a part of me that feels I owe her an apology. Now to some of you that might seem confusing - I've been openly a fan for years ever since her guest appearance on Idlewild, I'd put both The ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady on year-end lists, I wouldn't hesitate to put her on a list of one of the most defiantly unique and potent artists of the 2010s both in terms of raw talent and experimentation and that's even before you consider how she hasn't compromised her pop sensibility. And yet going back to my review of The Electric Lady five years ago, just when I was starting out... there's a part of me not proud of it, primarily because of how I treated the underlying metaphors and themes at the core of the work. Not that I didn't grasp it - the queer black femininity at its core was always apparent and Janelle Monae did a wonderful job exploring its nuances through the larger metaphors of her story - but I feel the language I chose was minimizing, especially given how deeply personal said narrative turned out to be. For me it was more paying attention to the mechanics of the story, looking for a weightier external payoff to the narrative rather than realizing the true thematic and emotional arc was internal... and while some of that could be explained due to the theatrical artificiality of the narrative, I should have realized the inward shift of the metaphor and presentation was likely far more representative of what explorations of queer black femininity and sexuality are. 

Fast forward to 2018 and it should surprise nobody that so much of the coded theatricality has slipped away: the institutional pressures have redoubled both internal and external strain, and flagrant urgency becomes a necessity. More than that, Janelle Monae has only grown into a more assured and confident artist, both from her forays into acting or even her steps into mainstream R&B with The Eephus EP in 2015 - yes, I personally preferred more of the fantastical sci-fi aesthetic and genre blending, but raw charisma can compensate for a lot. And thus for Dirty Computer, there was a part of me that knew this record wouldn't quite be the same sort of Afrofuturist affair as her previous work - especially with the lead-off singles, it looked to be, for lack of better words, more conventional and accessible. Granted, she still released an entire short film to flesh out the greater themes of the record that was very much linked to her conceptual framework, but we're here to focus on the album itself - so how is it?

Friday, April 27, 2018

video review: 'the shadow theory' by kamelot

Well, this was... mostly disappointing, but I'm happy I got it off my schedule all the same. Eh, let's just move on.

Next up, I've got Resonators and finally some Janelle Monae, so stay tuned!

album review: 'the shadow theory' by kamelot

So when a band gets twelve albums into their career... hell, what is even left to say? Their high and low points are well-known, as are their moments of genre experimentation and flair. They've become an established quantity, and unless there is a massive paradigm shift, there becomes very little for critics like me to say...

And yet Kamelot has been different, mostly because their past few albums have been a pretty stark departure in sound with new frontman Tommy Karevik. The symphonic bombast had been ramped up, the tones were more aggressive and borderline progressive, and while Silverthorn was pretty damn solid in its own right, their 2015 follow-up Haven featured two of the best songs of 2015 and easily one of the best power ballads of the decade! It was a height that Kamelot hadn't reached in any capacity for me in over a decade, and thus I was genuinely curious how they could follow that up or if the album could match the extremely high quality of some of the individual cuts that came before. Granted, this was also coming with the departure of their longtime drummer Casey Grillo, but replacement Johan Nunez had a respectable pedigree and I was confident that Kamelot could still deliver. So, what did we get with The Shadow Theory?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

video review: 'primal heart' by kimbra

Well, this was a pretty damn good record, definitely enjoyable and recommended!

And hopefully on a similar note to handle some long-overdue business... stay tuned!

album review: 'primal heart' by kimbra

Man, it's been a while since I've had such mixed feelings going into a review.

And to explain why, we need to go back to 2012 - the pop charts are being overrun with out-of-nowhere indie breakthroughs, and 'Somebody That I Used To Know' is becoming one of the biggest sleeper hits of the 2010s. But Kimbra had gotten her start earlier with an off-kilter brand of indie pop that took old school glamour and spent an album driving noisy spikes into it. Occasionally unsettling but frequently compelling, Vows was a really damn potent indie debut, and her collaboration with Gotye seemed to give Kimbra the opening she needed...

And then in 2014 we got The Golden Echo. Now I'll freely admit my review of that record is not one of my best, but the record as a whole didn't hold up then and four years haven't improved it. Critical and commercial momentum hit a brick wall as her characteristically unstable and overwrought production collided with R&B and 90s pop-inspired tones, muddying her usually sharp satirical edge, and her choice to stick almost entirely with her cooing upper register made an already overlong record a chore to get through. Now don't get me wrong, there were some high points that made it compelling, but it's a little understandable it's been four years since that release, and there were major shakeups in the production staff, bringing on John Congleton as a major co-producer and also nabbing credits from Natasha Bedingfield and Skrillex. And considering how often this record had been pushed back, I didn't really have high expectations but I at least hoped Kimbra could make a return to form, especially as Vows has held up to this day. So alright, what did we get with Primal Heart?

video review: 'KOD' by j. cole

Well, this was a mess - and yeah, I may have gone a little too deep with this, but I'm genuinely surprised that there wasn't a huge negative response to this...

Eh, whatever, next up something better - stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 28, 2018 (VIDEO)

So yeah, this week was kind of messy... but hey, it could be worse (like what I'm expecting next week), so on that topic...

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

album review: 'KOD' by j. cole

Let's talk satire in hip-hop for a bit. 

See, since near the genre's inception there have always been artists that have twisted stereotypical tropes of the genre into nastier shapes to comment upon the culture, that take the hedonism and violence and co-opt the production and language with a veneer of irony to comment upon the genre to make a deeper statement about it. And this is always a dicey line to walk, because this sort of satire can very easily fall into the blurry territory where those who get the intentions will get the point but the audience that can't see past the aesthetic will simply embrace everything on display without deeper questions or self-reflection. And what's exasperating is that so much of this is subjective - there is no clear line delineating when and where the satire connects, and that tends to mean these records tend to be pretty divisive among critics and audiences alike.

And thus when J. Cole came out of nowhere to release KOD - an acronym intended to simultaneously mean Kids On Drugs, King Overdose and Kill Our Demons - I started to get worried when I saw comparisons being made with These Days, the 2014 record made by hip-hop's resident satirist troll Ab-Soul and one of the shakiest records in his discography. And what tends to get overlooked is that parody and satire were pretty well represented in hip-hop in 2014, from the neo-gothic opera of and then you shoot your cousin by The Roots to the abrasive nightmare of clipping's self-titled release, and thus when J. Cole is getting comparisons to the weakest of that satirical trio... well, it sparks concerns, especially when you consider how uneven J. Cole's stabs into message-driven hip-hop have been in the past. Granted, if you're placing J. Cole on more aggressive and interesting production he might be able to avoid the frustrating slog that was 4 Your Eyez Only, but again, I had concerns how effectively he'd be able to address this, especially as this is easily his shortest record to date. So fine, what did we get on KOD?

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 28, 2018

You know, it's only in the streaming album bomb era where the cool down week gets any sort of appreciation. I can't even say it was a great week here - honestly, doesn't really look like it, especially in comparison with my mostly positive feelings about Cardi B and 'Nice For What' last week - but considering we have J Cole coming in from around the corner for next week and then whatever the hell Post Malone unleashes the week right after... yeah, I'll take whatever slower moments I can get.

Monday, April 23, 2018

video review: 'port saint joe' by brothers osborne

Okay, not as great as I was hoping... but overall, still solid, definitely recommended.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN, and we'll see what comes next - stay tuned!

album review: 'port saint joe' by brothers osborne

Oh, I was looking forward to this one - and for a nice change of pace, it didn't look like it was just me this time around and that's thrilling to see.

And there's really no mincing words about it: in the face of other country duos Brothers Osborne have surged to the forefront in critical acclaim and presence over the past few years ever since they released Pawn Shop in very early 2016 - and what's more exciting is that they seemed to be doing it the right way. Sure, that debut was uneven and had rough patches both in production and songwriting, but you wouldn't really know it given that Brothers Osborne had a canny eye for releasing great singles like '21 Summer' and especially 'It Ain't My Fault', which might just have one of the best music videos of the decade. It was one of those projects where the sheer talent, wit, and swagger was hard to deny, and while the larger mainstream never quite got onboard the way they should have - especially considering it wasn't like their labelmate Eric Church had many singles in circulation to compete - this upcoming record starting getting a lot of attention, to see how they'd follow up and expand their southern rock style while keeping that idiosyncratic flair and firepower. Or to put it another way, even though I've been a fan of these guys for a few years now, I was excited to see how much everyone else wanted to get on-board: so what did we get on Port Saint Joe?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

video review: 'liberty' by lindi ortega

So I have to admit, I'm a little surprised to realize that Lindi Ortega wound up blocking me on Twitter... shame, I thought this album was pretty damn good and she may never see it.

Anyway, next up is some more country (albeit of a slightly different stripe), so stay tuned!

album review: 'liberty' by lindi ortega

So I've talked before about narrative-driven concept records in country music, and while you'd think they'd be more common given the genre's penchant for telling stories... look, I can barely say that with a straight face anymore, especially in the checklist-driven mainstream scene. But even outside of that, for a country artist to take a real risk and build a coherent, multi-part narrative over an entire project... that requires a level of ambition, forethought, and oftentimes budget that can be daunting for any act, especially in the indie scene.

But that wasn't going to stop Lindi Ortega this time. After she broke out in 2012 with the excellent Cigarettes & Truckstops that won her a ton of justifiable critical acclaim, most of which carried into her 2013 follow-up Tin Star, I had the feeling that she was on the cusp of really taking at least the indie scene by storm, if not more. And yet while I mostly liked 2015's Faded Gloryville, it was also clear that her vintage, rockabilly-infused country lane was starting to lose its luster in the face of an increasingly oversaturated scene and songs that just didn't rise to her best... and beyond all of that, there's just not a lot of money in that brand of indie country, and Nashville is an expensive city. So she left it altogether, came back to Canada, and set out to make her most ambitious project to date, putting aside the rockabilly tones for something grander and rougher, pulling on spaghetti western bombast like that of Ennio Morricone for the gritty melodrama to come. Three acts, fifteen tracks, with songs in Spanish and English blending mariachi with her smoky blend of noir and country rock, I've been wanting to cover this for weeks... and now that it's up the schedule, let's dig in: what did we get on Liberty?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

video review: 'COSMIC' by bazzi

You know, I rarely cover acts who blow up in this vein... but I'm kind of curious to see if this review takes off, it's intriguing.

Next up... whoo boy, this'll be interesting, one of the most ambitious country records of the year, so stay tuned!

album review: 'COSMIC' by bazzi

I'm not going to deny how weird it feels when a record like this winds up on my schedule.

See, it's been very well-documented that I was no big fan of the Vine dance crazes that dominated entirely too much of the Hot 100 in the mid-2010s, and while there were a fair few Vine stars that found careers after the platform collapsed - some of which I like a fair bit, such the David Dobrik vlog squad or Gabbie Hanna - the only one associated primarily with music I came close to liking was Shawn Mendes, and even he has had some gross low points. But Bazzi's meteoric rise might be even stranger - he also started on Vine, but the breakthrough of his song 'Mine' was linked to a Snapchat lens going viral. Now considering Snapchat is in its own dire straits right now, I couldn't help but feel surprised to discover that not only did Bazzi have a record ready to capitalize on his sudden success - seemingly backed by Warner and Atlantic to boot - but that it looked like a fully fleshed out project: sixteen tracks, self-produced with only a assist from duo Rice 'N' Peas, and getting a surprising amount of buzz to get up my schedule remarkably quickly. And considering 'Mine' was a pretty good song, I was inclined to see if this guy was truly ready for the big time, so what did we get with COSMIC?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

video review: 'joyride' by tinashe

Well, this was... actually better than I expected. A few really choice cuts keeps this in interesting territory, definitely worth the listen if you're curious.

Next up, let's go with this Bazzi project - stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 21, 2018 (VIDEO)

So yeah, crazy busy episode, but it seems like it's going down well, so enjoy!

album review: 'joyride' by tinashe

At this point it's hard not to feel like Tinashe should be bigger.

And believe it or not, this has absolutely nothing to do with my opinion on her music - I didn't really like Aquarius, and while I found Nightride a modest improvement, there was R&B I liked more that year - hell, more R&B I liked both years. And in a sense it's hard to escape the feeling that Tinashe might have fallen victim to a peculiar phenomenon I've observed with rising R&B starlets: they get one big mainstream-crossover hit, their breakthrough album gets critical acclaim and hits a bunch of year-end lists... and then if they don't have the guaranteed follow-up smash on the next project, the interest dries up in record time, even if it might turn out those later projects are better or more interesting. But even then, Tinashe is on a major label, you would think there'd be more of a marketing push to break her into the spotlight... but her sales have not been great, and it would be a damn tragedy if she releases her strongest project to the weakest public response yet. Granted, I did have concerns given how much Joyride was delayed and that it had the guest stars that she hadn't needed on Nightride, and it's not like Offset, Future, Ty Dolla $ign and French Montana are known for consistent quality, but given the years of development time, there had to be something potent here, right?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 21, 2018

There are a lot of narratives that need to be considered going into this week, most of which I predicted and those that I didn't I'm not sure I wanted to entertain. Of course the biggest story is the Cardi B album bomb, but like last week the Hot 100 would have been plenty busy without her.

Monday, April 16, 2018

video review: 'find a light' by blackberry smoke (ft. the lp club)

Not quite a great project - which yes, is disappointing - but overall, pretty solid and I'm happy Ethan and I were able to pull this together. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

video review: 'sister cities' by the wonder years

Man, this was long in coming - and holy shit, this was awesome! Definitely happy to have covered this.

Next up, before I tackle Laura Veirs, I've got a crossover in the works, so stay tuned!

album review: 'sister cities' by the wonder years

So here's something as a music critic I'm very conscious of, but I doubt is noticed by anyone else: the 'token' album. And even if you're not a critic you've probably seen evidence of this in "I don't like x genre but I like this". Now on the one hand the records that typically fall into this narrow category can hit universal appeal that even those who might not be fond of the genre can't deny the greatness, but when you have musical subgenres that don't tend to get critical respect, there's an air of condescension that comes with these picks that can be pretty obnoxious. Now I've already mentioned this can happen with artists like Kacey Musgraves, but she was making an obvious play for crossover appeal - what we're going to be talking about today are artists who are damn great within their own genre and yet get picked up as critical darlings as the 'token band' by folks and critics who'll never deign to go deeper.

And yet with a band like The Wonder Years, you'd think critics would have learned. Coming from the fertile intersection of pop punk and the 2010s emo revival, their early work may have been slagged as formulaic, but by 2011 they had hit a serious stride with Suburbia I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing, tapping into the decay of American suburbia and existential teenage angst on a much broader, more universal scale. This is a group that fused the layered, personal detail of emo with the huge hooks of pop punk, and it was a synthesis that won over fans of the genre very quickly, especially on their follow-ups The Greatest Generation and No Closer To Heaven, records that are pretty damn great even if I personally prefer Suburbia. But those records started to get picked up by some critics as their 'token' pop punk or emo act on year end lists, and as much as that could feel galling from the outside, it did mean their newest record Sister Cities was starting to pick up a lot more attention... which might have come a rough time, as many of the longtime fans were saying this record didn't quite hold up to earlier releases. But hey, I still wanted to cover it given that I've been criminally late to the party with this group before, so how is Sister Cities?

video review: 'isolation' by kali uchis

Yep, I know, I'm late with this one, but really, this project wasn't on my favourites regardless. 

The Wonder Years up next, so stay tuned!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

album review: 'isolation' by kali uchis

I was genuinely surprised with how many people were requesting I cover this record.

Well, okay, maybe not that surprised - many people know her most for her Grammy-nominated collaboration with Daniel Caesar, but I was familiar with her name going a little further back, mostly through her connections to Tyler, the Creator. And dig a little deeper into the featuring credits and I've seen her name come up a fair bit associated with Gorillaz and Miguel and I don't recall saying anything bad about her. And going back to those collaborations, the weakest might have been 'Caramelo Duro' with Miguel, but she did a great job on 'She's My Collar' with Gorillaz and even better opposite Tyler on 'See You Again'.

And that was enough to at least get me intrigued to do a little more research into where she was taking this debut. Reportedly her mixtapes pulled on a broader cross-section of sounds, spanning doo-wop, jazz, bossa nova, and of course reggaeton given her Columbian heritage. And considering the massive amount of critical acclaim she's received for this breakout project - and if you dig through the liner notes, you'll see names ranging from Thundercat and BADBADNOTGOOD to Damon Albarn and Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, and that's before you get the who's who of big name producers from Greg Kurstin to Sounwave. Alright, I'm intrigued, what did we get on Isolation?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

video review: 'the scars of man on the once nameless wilderness (i and ii)' by panopticon

And man alive, this took a ton to finish. Next up, Kali Uchis - stay tuned!

album review: 'the scars of man on the once nameless wilderness (i and ii)' by panopticon

I'm not sure without Panopticon I'd have gotten into black metal.

Oh, it was a genre I was exploring, but it was mostly at arm's length, tentatively probing into alien walls of screaming guitars, hammering drums and howled vocals, and while the huge melodies were appealing in the more atmospheric material, I was waiting for that special record to really click. And then came Panopticon, blending in elements of bluegrass and folk and country, genres I knew well, and with records like Kentucky served as my bridge into a genre that captured the primal character of Appalachians, both at its most abandoned and wild to the mountains ravaged by the coal industry and desperate poverty. Yeah, even though I've always found the lyrics from Panopticon nearly impossible to make out - and project mastermind Austin Lunn has no interest in making them easy - there was something to his guttural roars that painted a stark picture to pull me back again and again, culminating when he released Autumn Eternal and it made my year-end list for the best records of 2015.

So, three years later... and we have a two-hour double album, half of which was atmospheric black metal, the other half country folk with an ambitious breadth of instrumentation that almost seemed to imply a more progressive side coming through with this band. And with that album title, it was hard to avoid the thought that Austin Lunn might be returning to the more stark political subtext that hammered through Kentucky. And while I knew this was going to be a LOT to fully take in... hell, I was on-board, so what did I find on The Scars Of Man On The Once Nameless Wilderness (I and II)?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 14, 2018 (VIDEO)

Okay, that took WAY too long... but in the mean time, I think I'm finally ready to talk about Panopticon, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 14, 2018 know, there was a time when an album bomb happened it would at least slow existing traffic on the Hot 100. But since The Weeknd's new EP only had six songs - and seems like it's already vanishing from the cultural conversation given how flat and turgid it was - aside from every single song from it breaking we also had a pretty active week regardless - at least until the next album bomb with Cardi B, and I'd put a fair amount of money on that being far more disruptive.

Monday, April 9, 2018

video review: 'invasion of privacy' by cardi b

Yes, I know that Panopticon was on the schedule first, I'm working as quick as I can to get through it... but it's a two hour behemoth of a record and I'm still chugging through.

But before we get to that, Billboard BREAKDOWN - stay tuned!

album review: 'invasion of privacy' by cardi b

So I think it's about time I discuss something from my past reviews that has continued to spark a lot of controversy to this day and has been used by many as a cheap attempt to discredit my opinion: that time I gave Iggy Azalea's The New Classic a light 7/10 - don't worry, I'll tie it all together, I do have a point. Because in hindsight, that looks bad, especially considering the hard tailspin that her career took in the years that followed and how everyone really wants to forget just how those singles ruled 2014 and how her phony accent and ignorant behavior effectively discredited her from the jump.

So it might surprise you all for me to say I actually stand by that review, mostly because I think a lot of the criticisms she got were kind of bullshit. Oh, she's an awful human being and is completely ignorant and says disgusting things and oh hi 6ix9ine, Kodak Black, and XXXTENTACION, so where's our moral ground here again? Oh, but she was clearly co-opting an accent that was not her own to sound hard and pay no attention to the Drake in the corner over there, to say nothing of the dozens of bargain-barrel rappers who hopped on the Migos flow, including MCs who should really know better! And if all of that smacks of whataboutism... well yeah, it is, but it's more highlighting the hypocrisy inherent in the mainstream rap hype cycle. And that's not to excuse the real issues with The New Classic - it's all over the place, it falls apart in the final few songs, the production can feel flimsy and dated, it's a slice of shallow pop rap that I probably gave a shade too much credit, it'd probably have a slightly lower score now from me... and yet it effectively delivers what it set out to do, with really solid flows, strong charisma, and occasionally decent wordplay and good hooks. And yet that being said, it was a record built for disposability, and like countless other pop rappers before her, I'm not surprised Iggy Azalea couldn't follow it up.

And thus when I see Cardi B... really, I see so many of the same characteristics. Strong flows, tons of personality, occasionally decent wordplay and good hooks, and what do you know, her breakout hit was a flow jacked outright from another rapper! Hell, you're already seeing analogous authenticity questions, from Cardi B transitioning from stripper and reality show star to rapper to Iggy Azalea's underground come-up. And it's that last comparison that had me worried about this record, despite some critics already salivating over it - Iggy Azalea had time to refine her debut, whereas for Cardi B, despite those mixtapes she's had to pull together a record extremely quickly, and while a good production team can pull off a lot, there was reason to believe this could awry really fast. But hey, I'll give Cardi B a lot of credit for what she's done in her lane, and like with Iggy Azalea, if she sticks the landing I was prepared to praise this... so how is Invasion of Privacy?

Saturday, April 7, 2018

video review: '2012-2017' by a.a.l. (against all logic)

About damn time I got to this, whew.

Next up... man, it's a behemoth here, so stay tuned!

album review: '2012-2017' by a.a.l (against all logic)

So when I covered Nicolas Jaar's album Sirens a few years back, I found a lot more to like than I had initially expected. I was going in off the excellent record Space is Only Noise which hit an odd cross-section of electronic music that was too uniquely compelling to ignore, but Sirens was a different sort of animal entirely, a politically themed and intensely potent warning sign against coming political calamity, which felt all the more starkly relevant in 2016. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of getting to it late and covering it in the aftermath post-November, and thus I couldn't help but feel like the warning had come too late, which I think colored how much the record resonated with me in comparison to Space Is Only Noise.

And I think it might some of those residual feelings that have kept me from really diving headfirst into 2012-2017, even despite the avalanche of critical acclaim this collection of tunes has gotten. Granted, part of my reticence has been that I'm not normally one to talk about loose compilations of songs - and Jaar is the sort of artist to deliver potent themes in his electronic music, so while seeing him release this under a different name made sense, it wasn't something I felt in a hurry to cover. But folks have consistently voted it up the schedule and it has received a ton of acclaim from critics I respect and I'm not going to deny I was curious, so what the hell - how is 2012-2017?

movie review: 'blockers' (VIDEO)

Wow, this was... actually pretty easy to talk about, but a nice short review all the same. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

video review: 'everything's fine' by jean grae & quelle chris

It's a very nice pleasant surprise when you post a very positive review... and then realize that everyone else loves it too! Awesome, because this record will get slept on by entirely too many people, and is a ton of fun.

Next up, some old business before I deal with the avalanche of new releases, so stay tuned!

album review: 'everything's fine' by jean grae & quelle chris

It is very rare when I find a record I can approach for review in so many different ways, but here we are. I could talk about how we've had a pretty damn strong first quarter of 2018 when it comes to underground hip-hop. I could talk about the strong undercurrents of political relevance that are reinvigorated and increasingly refined in this scene thanks much of the nonsense associated with the current U.S. government and a social conscience that seems to at least be getting some critical respect these days. 

Or I could talk about the artists themselves, both underground veterans but for very different reasons, Jean Grae for her critically acclaimed work with 9th Wonder throughout the 2000s spawning a fair few great records, Quelle Chris for his slightly more inconsistent but no less compelling set of work as a rapper and producer, much of which led to his record I reviewed and praised heavily last year Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often. I could talk about their distinctive sensibilities being a fascinating match for each other, or how, when you think about it, I'm not sure I could think of a husband and wife hip-hop duo ever delivering a project together in the history of the genre. Yes, there's Cardi B and Offset's collaborative songs, but they don't remotely feel the same, they're not yet married, I doubt they'll make a project together, and none of that seems like it's going to last. With Jean Grae and Quelle Chris it seems tangible and real, and I was absolutely fascinated how they'd work together on this project, called Everything's Fine - which just by that lets you know it's not going to shy away from the socio-political undercurrents right now and just getting by in these turbulent times. So yeah, I definitely see the appeal and I had a lot of high expectations: what did we find on Everything's Fine?

video review: 'czarface meets metal face' by czarface & mf doom (ft. luke james)

Man, we've been talking about this for a while, and I'm so thrilled Luke and I could team up to dig into this, it was a lot of fun - enjoy!

Next up, more hip-hop - stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

video review: 'my dear melancholy,' by the weeknd

And that's two... and I'm about to pass out. Next up, we've got some hip-hop on the docket, and we might have someone very special joining us in the next episode or two, so stay tuned!

album review: 'my dear melancholy,' by the weeknd

Let's be honest: we all knew this was coming. We all knew The Weeknd had seemed a little too quiet for too long - yes, he showed up on that Black Panther song, but the last few hits from Starboy had sunk away and other artists had surged up to seize the hype in R&B, usually by ripping him off with a trap flourish. And when word dropped that he had a surprise project and fake track lists began flooding the internet with word suggesting he was going back to his old sound, it was hard for me to work up a lot of excitement. And that might seem kind of weird, given how often he's wound up on my year-end lists for singles - and that doesn't even get to 'False Alarm', which is arguably the best thing he's done since Thursday - but those are individual songs, not full projects. Hell, the only full-length projects I'd say truly gripped me from The Weeknd were Thursday and Echoes of Silence, and while many were saying this EP was a return to his old sound, when I didn't see Illangelo's name on the production list I wasn't remotely convinced. But hey, he kept it short, six songs just over twenty minutes, there were some intriguing names like Skrillex and Nicolas Jaar of all people on production, and we didn't get that XXXTENTACION collaboration I saw lurking on some fake track lists. So what the hell: how is My Dear Melancholy,?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 7, 2018 (VIDEO)

And here we go - but it's not the only video dropping tonight, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 7, 2018

And now we get a cooldown week... whew. Sort of what I was expecting, given that there wasn't really any big crossover releases outside of some scattered singles - and really, there are some songs that are lingering longer than I'm personally comfortable - but hey, given how busy I have been, I will take what I can get.

trailing edge - episode 004 - march 2018 (VIDEO)

So I understand there might be a bit of controversy surrounding a few of these reviews... look folks, it happens, just roll with it.

Anyway, I'm hoping to drop a review along with Billboard BREAKDOWN tonight, so stay tuned!

Monday, April 2, 2018

video review: 'golden hour' by kacey musgraves

Okay, so let's see how well this goes down... I think I was cautious with the hype here while still thinking this is a pretty great record in and of itself, but again, I stand by what I say at the end, there are FAR more deserving albums of the hype, especially from women in country.

Anyway, next up is the Trailing Edge tonight, so stay tuned!

album review: 'golden hour' by kacey musgraves

I feel like I've been hearing a lot about what this record could have sounded like for so long that whatever I was going to get, I'm not sure it'd ever live up to expectations.

And I'll be the first to admit that's a really crappy thing to say or think going into one of my most anticipated records of the year from one of the heavy-hitters in artistically fascinating country adjacent to the mainstream, especially for an artist whose major label breakthrough I loved so much it was in my top three of 2013. But even since Same Trailer, Different Park, it's hard to escape the feeling that a certain amount of complexity and nuance that I was praying would expand in Kacey Musgraves' songwriting was slipping away in favour of increasingly lightweight textures and ideas. First there was Pageant Material - and yes, for as much as I loved the title track on that record, it was the sort of overly burnished traditionalist country as a whole that felt a shade too sleepy to really stick with me more deeply. And then when I had heard her next record would be a stab into 'emo country' coming after a remix collaboration with Miguel, I was thoroughly perplexed where Kacey Musgraves' brand of genre experimentation would take her...

And then she got married and started cowriting a very lovestruck, psychedelic-infused pop country album dabbling in disco and... well, it struck me as the last possible direction that would highlight her strengths as a singer or songwriter, especially when if you know your country history this is not a subgenre that's gone unexplored. Hell, if you want to take a look at disco-infused country tones, Lydia Loveless was reviving this sound two years ago to amazing effect! But even Musgraves will admit she's not as challenging or experimental as those on the fringes of Nashville or Austin these days, and in a sense, that could be fine if the writing was sharp and the compositions held up - Caitlyn Smith wasn't reinventing the wheel with Starfire and that's a pop country record that has only gotten better with every listen this year! And even despite some very concerning naysayers, the critical response has been insanely good across the board, and maybe I'm just worrying over nothing, so what the hell - how is Golden Hour?

patreon update - april 2018 - per-video to per-month tier change (VIDEO)

Yeah, this is a tough one to make... but thus far, I've been really pleased with how things turned out, thank you all!

Next up, Kacey Musgraves and the Trailing Edge!