Saturday, June 30, 2018

the top albums/songs of the midyear - 2018

There are years where I struggle with this midyear list, sometimes in years overloaded with quality that force me to make some painful cuts, or years that are a little more scant I'm stuck with what seems like a smaller list... and still have to make painful cuts. 

And thus it feels odd that building this 2018 midyear list is perhaps one of the easiest I've ever assembled, and since I'm not about to assume I'm getting good at this, I'm genuinely curious why that might be. I will say that outside of hip-hop, other genres don't seem to be having an exceptionally strong year - great albums in rock and country and metal but few that really went over the top in terms of quality, and I'd argue pop has had it even worse. But more than that, even the records that just missed the cut - Beach House, Iceage, Parquet Courts, Against All Logic, and especially Phonte - while they were truly terrific releases, I'm not precisely torn up that they had to miss the cut, as they all have a considerable shot for the year-end as my tastes evolve and change. 

So given that this is my fifth list like this, you know the rules: the albums and songs have to have been reviewed in 2018, and while I'm fairly certain you'll all know what's going to top this list, I'll add that there are songs from The Trailing Edge that have a chance to wind up in the individual songs, because there really were some incredible cuts there. So let's not waste any time and start with...

album reviews: 'no shame' by lily allen / 'bigger' by sugarland / 'paid in exposure' by natewantstobattle / 'dan + shay' by dan + shay (VACATION)

So yeah, this was a mess - and about the last video I was prepared to deal with copyright bullshit about, but such is the age we live in. Anyway, midyear video is coming, so stay tuned!

video review: 'year of the snitch' by death grips

Nearly forgot to post this - there's been a lot of stupidity the past few days surrounding vacation plans, and in my next update you'll see that...

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

album review: 'year of the snitch' by death grips

So here's my biggest observation when it comes to Death Grips from being appreciative of their sound but mostly outside the fandom: at some point Death Grips was going to take a step outside of their frequent trolling and just outright alienate or drive away the audience. Hell, you could make the argument that way back in 2013 they already did this with Government Plates, and while the Death Grips fandom has an impressive tolerance for bullshit, if Jenny Death had not been as strong as it was, I'm not sure they would have gotten away with so much for so long.

And the other unfortunate factor is that Death Grips really aren't the only ones pushing the boundaries in this space anymore - noisier hip-hop is far more common and accepted than it used to be, and while I'd argue Death Grips are still relatively close to the cutting edge, even fans were noticing ground was starting to get retread on Bottomless Pit - which, for the record, is an album I still quite like to this day. And yet even with that, the initial buzz I had been hearing for Year Of The Snitch has been... mixed, to say the least, with no clear consensus surrounding what may have gone awry this time. And thus I had very little idea what was coming on Year Of The Snitch, even despite what one could argue is one of the most traditional and straightforward rollouts for a new album Death Grips has ever had, so what did we get?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 30, 2018 (VIDEO)

So I don't think people were expecting how harsh I was in this video.

Oh well, I'm not going to mince words, and I've already made my lengthy pieces surrounding XXXTENTACION. It's your choice to not reckon with the consequences of your listening choices, not mine.

Anyway, might as well talk Death Grips next, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 30, 2018 know, it's funny, people were reaching out to me for my reaction when XXXTENTACION posthumously went to #1 this week and all I tweeted was '...'. That was it, and people assumed or projected so many emotions upon that tweet... when reality I just did not care. And I still don't - I've said my piece on XXXTENTACION a number of times, my review of ? was over fifteen minutes long, and to see this response... well, it's very telling to say the least, that in the dumpster fire of the Hot 100 in 2018, instead of any of his other songs American audiences chose to send the one where he's guilt-tripping a significant other by threatening suicide to the #1. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

video review: 'pray for the wicked' by panic! at the disco

Well, this was a complete disappointment... but hey, you were going to hate me for this review anyway, so enjoy!

Next up, what looks to be a pretty miserable episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'pray for the wicked' by panic! at the disco

So the fact that I have to cover this album is a no-win situation for me. 

I might as well lay this out right now just to establish where the discourse is going to be when talking about this album regardless of its quality, and considering I somehow wound up in the situation when posting reviews makes me lose subscribers in the short term, I really have nowhere to go but down here. And if this all sounds sardonic and defeatist... well, it is the former, but the larger truth is that I know regardless of what I say there'll be a diehard fanbase that'll stick up for whatever Panic! At The Disco does. So even if I say how much A Fever You Can't Sweat Out has real gems, and Pretty Odd. is legitimately great and Vices & Virtues and Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die are both underrated, and how 'Crazy = Genius' made my year-end list of the best songs of 2016 and I think there's at least something to Brendon Urie being compared to Brian Wilson... it ultimately does not matter to them.

But frankly, given how I reviewed Death Of A Bachelor two years ago you should all know this by now, so let's focus on Pray For The Wicked, where I covered a few of their lead-off singles on Billboard BREAKDOWN but I can't say I remember all that much of them. I remember the production sounding overblown and thin - not remotely a good sign and about the last thing Brendon Urie would want to carry over from Broadway productions - and I remember the lyrics feeling underweight, and the buzz was suggesting that was pretty commonplace across the record, but Panic! At The Disco in every incarnation has found ways to surprise me, and I was genuinely hoping that Pray For The Wicked would hit that point, so how's the album?

video review: 'the future and the past' by natalie prass

Yeah, really took me way too long to get to this one... and I really do wish it was better, but it's got its merits.

On a slightly more dispiriting note... look, just stay tuned?

album review: 'the future and the past' by natalie prass

So I remember a few years back I described a certain brand of indie pop and folk that I tended not to like, that I and other critics have branded as 'twee'... and in retrospect, I think my opinions have evolved on this subject. Because give the aesthetic style even a bit more thought and you'd think that parts of it would be right up my alley: earnestness, a songwriterly attention to detail, organic texture that rewards patience and nuance in the listener, you'd think this would resonate...

And in truth that's all probably true, so maybe 'twee' is the wrong designation... but I also can't deny that there's a certain delicate, overly arranged and yet very accessible, borderline 'basic' aesthetic that doesn't resonate as strongly if that core of strength doesn't come through. And for a prime example of this, let's talk about Natalie Prass, an indie pop singer-songwriter most recognizable for her thin, fluttery vocal delivery and very polished, borderline baroque pop arrangements who won buckets of critical acclaim for her self-titled debut in 2015. And yeah, I can see the quality: she's a wry and clever songwriter, the arrangements are certainly lush and pretty with their strings and horns, and there's a theatricality to her presentation I can usually appreciate... but it just never gripped me more deeply, a record I can appreciate more than actually enjoy. And thus I was wary when I saw her follow-up show up on my schedule, but I was certainly intrigued by the buzz - reportedly that core of strength had finally materialized, along with her taking a stridently political direction after having to junk an entire record of songs that she felt just didn't fit with the current climate. And while this album hasn't quite been getting the rave reviews of her debut, I thought there was a chance this album could click for me more than her last, so how is The Future And The Past?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

resonators 2018 - episode #006 - 'kill from the heart' by dicks (VIDEO)

I've got a lot of thoughts that I wound up being the one doing this profile years later - the fact that I can't find any anniversary pieces on this album baffles me, or even something in Pride... but then again, hardcore punk being ahead of its time and then promptly forgotten is nothing new. /sigh

Okay, next up, let's talk about Natalie Prass and then I might handle Panic! At The Disco - stay tuned!

resonators 2018 - episode #006 - 'kill from the heart' by dicks

So there are some cultural narratives around certain genres of music like hardcore punk that I'd like to think this series at least has taken a small step in helping demystify, and today we're going to be talking about one of the more complicated ones: homosexuality in hardcore. Because just within the classic records I've covered so far we've heard gay slurs, and while the majority of the artists seem to regret them now, it's just as important to understand this was the early 1980s. It was Reagan's America, hypermasculinity was in, and hardcore punk was very much a boys club, and even though we're talking about a genre that trended left, I wasn't remotely surprised to see those slurs pop up among young guys looking to be as blunt and edgy as possible.

But that did not mean that there weren't gay artists in hardcore, and while I wasn't originally hoping for this record to top the poll for this month, given that it's Pride Month I'm kind of happy it did. That's right, folks, it's time we talk about one of the foundational albums in queercore, hardcore punk that tried to take a stridently progressive angle when it came to sexuality and gender and bringing it with as much fury as any of their more conventionally oriented counterparts. Hailing from Texas of all places and well-known for a drunken live show and their prominent socialist bent - and again, this was in 1983 - a band in Austin started as a joke by their openly gay frontman Gary Lloyd until singles and records proved otherwise, today we're going to be talking about The Dicks, and their full-length debut album Kill From The Heart, and this is Resonators!

Friday, June 22, 2018

album review: 'liberation' by christina aguilera

You know, I guess I shouldn't be that surprised that this record got so many votes so quickly on my schedule - it's her first record in six years, and she does have songs that are fondly remembered - but I'll admit I still am. And to explain why, we need to talk about Christina Aguilera's larger career and try to place some of it in context...

And even then, it's a struggle. Like many of her pop peers in the late 90s, Christina Aguilera started out in the Mickey Mouse club before transitioning into more adult pop tunes, notable because she actually had the pipes to back it up and become a serious player in pop and R&B. And while she was praised for that voice which helped her become a serious hit-maker around the turn of the millennium, get closer and the story becomes a lot more tangled. Part of this was inevitable as the early 2000s did a serious number on the careers of 90s pop divas, but ever since the beginning Aguilera's larger career seems strewn with weird choices and miscalculations. A strong debut is followed by an attempt to jump on the Latin craze of the time a year later with a record entirely in Spanish. Her 2002 album Stripped shows the dichotomies even more starkly, with pivots towards R&B and soul with 'Beautiful', rock with 'Fighter', and even hip-hop, none of which reflected any consistency. Her 2006 record Back To Basics showed a course correction towards a more flashy, almost old-fashioned brand of pop with tracks like 'Candyman' - even hiring P!nk cowriter Linda Perry to help. But that highlighted the unfortunate reality that while P!nk might not have the same register, her writing and edge had been consistently stronger since her breakthrough around the same time - P!nk knew exactly who she was and could build the cult of personality Aguilera struggled to assemble. Meanwhile despite artists like Lady Gaga highlighting Aguiilera as an inspiration, we got 2010's disastrous Bionic and the underwhelming Lotus in 2012 - at this point Christina Aguilera was becoming more well-known for her work on The Voice than as an artist in her own right, to the point where I'm surprised she hasn't leveraged that spotlight to push an album earlier, although she's continued to pop up on singles like 'Say Something' from A Great Big World and 'Feel This Moment' from Pitbull. But now we have a new album, with a producer list spanning from Kanye to Jon Bellion to Anderson .Paak, with guest stars from GoldLink and 2 Chainz to fellow pop diva Demi Lovato - and say what you will about Christina Aguilera, she doesn't play it safe, so what did we get with Liberation?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

album review: 'youngblood' by 5 seconds of summer

Oh, this one is going to hurt.

See, I was never one of those who hated 5 Seconds Of Summer right out of the gate, even if 'She Looks So Perfect' was stupid: I reviewed their first EP and their full-length debut in 2014 and Sounds Good, Feels Good a year later and I actually saw a progression for this group: yeah, in terms of mainstream-friendly pop rock they weren't reinventing the wheel or even stepping close to the exploding pop punk underground, but the hooks were catchy, the writing was steadily getting better, and they had songs with genuine crunch and presence that could hit a little harder. And while I never expected them to get that much heavier, in the wake of that pop punk and emo underground picking up steam you'd think the natural choice would be to double down on the instincts that got them writing gems like 'Jet Black Heart' and push even further.

And then you remember that 5 Seconds Of Summer were signed to a major label who were probably paying more attention what Maroon 5 was doing in gutless pop or how Fueled By Ramen has been systemically neutering the rock out of their roster, so gone were producers David Hodges and John Feldmann and in came the pop songwriting machine to churn out desaturated, groove-centric pop... which I'm not against if it feels natural and flatters the group like with The 1975, but when you have a band perfectly primed to take advantage of a rising underground movement and you force them to imitate a sound that's closing in on its last legs, that stinks of artistic mismanagement. So no, I was not looking forward to this release - could 5SOS pull their band from the brink?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

video review: 'EVERYTHING IS LOVE' by the carters (jay-z & beyonce)

You know, I kind of expect this review to face a backlash... but I'm not sure how big it'll be, we'll have to wait and see with this one.

Regardless, next up is either 5SOS or Christina Aguilera, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 23, 2018 (VIDEO)

Well, this was a pretty decent week. Not quite one of my better episodes, to be honest, but alright enough...

But now onto the true controversy, stay tuned!

album review: 'EVERYTHING IS LOVE' by the carters (jay-z & beyonce)

You'd think this would feel bigger.

That's been the thought that's lingered in my mind for the past few days in the wake of the surprise album from Jay-Z and Beyonce,  their first as a couple and already hailed by some as the triumphant conclusion to a multi-year arc where hip-hop's most notable power couple lay their grievances to rest and celebrate their love amidst overflowing stacks of money and fine art...

Huh, maybe that's what's it, the larger culture and especially the younger generation unable to relate to the dizzying heights of Jay's business ventures and wealth that they've given up and stopped paying attention altogether. I'll freely admit that was a major niggling issue that ran through my coverage of 4:44, but it has run deeper, with numerous black publications and essays being circulated on how in the larger American class war Jay and Beyonce wound up on the wrong side. And that's not to take away from their success or even their cult of personality - both are great artists and I really do love both Lemonade and 4:44 - but it's been increasingly difficult to overlook how said cult of personality has been assembled through black artistic associations that aren't their own, or that for as much as Jay has sought to pass along aspirational advice or for those to bask in Beyonce's mere presence, it's always come with a hefty price tag. And yet for me it's always been the more grounded and human moments of their relationship that's pulled me back, when the pinnacle has fractures or outright collapses that we have actual stakes in the drama. So yeah, I wasn't exactly lining up for the victory lap that some have said EVERYTHING IS LOVE represents - they rented out the goddamn Louvre for their video, for god's sake - but again, they're both great artists, I had the hopes this would be at least good. So what did we get?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 23, 2018

So I'll be honest: if there's a week that feels like a bit of a breather for me, it's this one. Yes, we got an album bomb from Kanye and Kid Cudi, but thanks to it actually being pretty good and not having an avalanche of other new arrivals, this week actually feels a little more restrained for once, and before Scorpion crashes in a few weeks, I'll take what I can get.

video review: 'oil of every pearl's un-insides' by SOPHIE

Yeah, I kind of expected the backlash here... eh, it happens.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN and then 5 Seconds Of Summer, so stay tuned!

Monday, June 18, 2018

album review: 'oil of every pearl's un-insides' by SOPHIE

So I tend to find it interesting what people's threshold for 'weird' is in electronica, mostly because I'm fairly certain mine is pretty skewed. Most of this I can attribute to when I started getting into electronic music in the first place a couple of years back, which found me delving into the critically acclaimed experimental electronic music that seriously challenged the art form rather than the foundational artists in house, techno, and other associated subgenres, most of which I found later. But what this means is that it set a strange baseline for what I would consider 'challenging' electronica, one that's probably not common with anybody else.

So for an easy example, let's talk about SOPHIE - known to work with Charli XCX and the PC Music group with chipper, burbling synths, lumpy, overblown and distorted progressions, and a sensibility somewhere between late 90s bubblegum pop and k-pop for synthesizing maddeningly catchy music, I had been aware of SOPHIE going back at least as far as her 2015 project Product, but I hadn't been thrown off-guard as so many were. Yeah, the mixes could feel slapdash and unbalanced, and the frequented pitched-up vocals could grate on my nerves, but beyond that... well, she at least had a pop sensibility in comparison to a producer like Arca, but that gave me the impression that this was considered so mindblowing and genre-pushing only with respect to modern electro-pop. And yeah, while it felt undercooked lyrically and I wasn't remotely convinced this was that experimental, I enjoyed it for what it was, and as such I wasn't nearly as surprised when she notched credits on Vince Staples' newest project, or that she'd have a larger release following up on the compilation Product waiting in the wings that's getting the bandwagon critical acclaim. So did SOPHIE manage to live up to all of those expectations with Oil Of Every Pearl's Un-Insides?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

video review: 'the mountain' by dierks bentley

Yes, I know this is late. Yes, I know I'm behind schedule again. I'm working through it, folks, just stay tuned!

album review: 'the mountain' by dierks bentley

So I'll admit it wasn't really my plan to review this. 

Well okay, that's not quite true, I was planning on adding this to my schedule naturally, but then nobody added the Kanye and Kid Cudi collaboration and given how quickly it attracted attention, I really had to stop everything and ensure it got attention. But even then, I still had other albums that would have come ahead of this... and yet the more listens I gave them, the less I had to say, with this becoming especially true for Lily Allen - where decent writing was squandered on utterly forgettable production - and Sugarland, which might have landed a few good hooks but was crippled by slapdash production, underweight writing, and the awful decision that they should try to rap.

And honestly, if I hadn't been aware that Dierks Bentley had intended The Mountain as a course correction, I would have been concerned similar tendencies could creep onto his work - it wasn't like he wasn't heading in that direction. He's always stayed a little adjacent to popular trends in the mainstream - which is one reason why he took off to make the bluegrass album Up The Ridge in 2010 - but several cuts on 2014's Riser took him perilously close to bro-country and Black was damn near a desaturated pop record, only saved by Bentley having better taste than many of his peers and deep cuts that tended to be of high quality - keep in mind that his song 'Here On Earth' made my top ten favourite songs of 2014 across all genres, he can be that good when he wants to be.

So yeah, I had high hopes with The Mountain - buzz was suggesting he was making a hard pivot towards heartland rock-tinged country and he was recruiting Brothers Osborne and Brandi Carlile to do so, and if there's a sound that could flatter Bentley's voice, it's that. I had every reason to believe this would be pretty damn solid at the very least - did he get there?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

video review: 'so sad so sexy' by lykke li

Man alive, I wasn't planning on making this review... but overall, I wish this had been a lot better. 

Next up, Dierks Bentley (finally) - stay tuned!

album review: 'so sad so sexy' by lykke li

So a few weeks back when I reviewed the newest record from CHVRCHES I called out how the majority of the production issues of that project were endemic to producer Greg Kurstin, a talented producer that has an unfortunate habit of swallowing his mixes in reverb and emphasizing percussion over melodies. But I would be remiss to not call out the moments when his approach actually works, and there's one example I always return to: 2014's I Never Learn by Lykke Li, a bleakly emotive breakup album that somehow sustained real melodic hooks amidst the hollow darkness that may not have been the follow-up guaranteed to snag mainstream attention after 'I Follow Rivers' snagged attention in 2011, but that wasn't necessary. To this day I still consider I Never Learn as Lykke Li's most potent, cohesive, and emotionally gripping project to date, one record where Greg Kurstin's production seemed to really fit...

And thus I can't help but see a certain irony that four years later, just like Lily Allen did for her new album No Shame - a project destined for the Trailing Edge, stay tuned for it there - Lykke Li ditched Kurstin for her new album so sad so sexy for a much bigger team. And I'll admit I was a little concerned about this one: seemingly like the mainstream-adjacent follow-up seven years later incorporating elements of R&B and trap with rap guest features, this was about the furthest thing I was expecting from Lykke Li... but I won't deny I wasn't curious. So alright, what did we get with so sad so sexy?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

video review: 'kids see ghosts' by kids see ghosts (kid cudi & kanye west)

Well, here we go. Enjoy the shitstorm, folks!

Next up... honestly, not sure yet, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 16, 2018 (VIDEO)

Okay, album bomb, but a solid week regardless...

Next up, more Kanye, but with bonus Kid Cudi...

album review: 'kids see ghosts' by kids see ghosts (kid cudi & kanye west)

I was going to skip this album altogether.

Seriously, I was - and I'm not saying that to shock you or be provocative, there's no shortage of records that I'm a lot more interested in covering than Kanye's tangled mess of underwhelming contradictions that'll be excused by diehard fans no matter what is said or done. And when you factor in Kid Cudi... well, I haven't actually ever reviewed a Kid Cudi record in full, but I have heard a fair chunk of his discography and my general impression is a wealth of genre-blending musical ideas and interesting language, but often falling way short in terms of execution, leading to records that can be really intriguing but also extremely frustrating. Ambitious for sure, but the gulf between his best work and his worst is vast, and while his well-publicized mental state might make said projects explainable, it doesn't really make them all that listenable.

That said, Kid Cudi and Kanye have managed to find wavelengths where their material has worked before, going back as far as 808s & Heartbreak, and the positive but varied critical reception to this project was intriguing, especially as critics have not held back when it has come to Kid Cudi in the past. And when you pair all of that with a certain overwhelmingly positive review that I don't think anyone saw coming... look, basically for the health of my general operation I had to cover this and put it on my schedule myself, so how is Kids See Ghosts?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 16, 2018

Kanye album bomb. Yeah, I know there are other things going on right now - a new #1, a sizable amount of activity further down the chart, but the big story is all of Kanye West's 'ye' crashing into the top 40, triggering a shockwave down the Hot 100 that'll likely be a mess to clean up next week... presuming of course Kids See Ghosts doesn't create its own impact!

Monday, June 11, 2018

video review: 'stranger fruit' by zeal & ardor

You know, I have absolutely no idea how controversial this review will wind up being... but if anything, I'm more disappointed that I didn't like it more.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN, and then whatever my Patrons vote for - enjoy?

album review: 'stranger fruit' by zeal & ardor

So the honest truth about much of the criticism I create is that it's pretty agnostic when it comes to the intent of the authors... or at least I try to be. As much as I might take issues with the ideology at the core of some work, I try to give everything its fair shake in execution. And sure, while there is something to be said for liking art that affirms your worldview and disliking art that rejects it, that's more amplification rather than a deciding factor - after all, I've heard enough anarcho-punk that while I might like or admire the politics, presentation ultimately pushes me away. 

But all of this comes from the fundamental assumption that the intentions of the artist are sincere, and while you do get your fair share of satires and genre deconstructions, artists that are openly disingenuous in their artistic pursuits and don't really give a shit about the aesthetic or ideas they're promoting can exist as well in a weird space. Now there are not that many acts in this lane - authenticity is a prized commodity from country to metal to punk to hip-hop, and flaunting your disdain for that tends to get you shoved out of a lot of spaces - but when there's a lot of money to be found they tend to pop up. You could make the argument that Limp Bizkit or the very least Fred Durst fell in this space for a time in the late 90s, using nu-metal and rap rock as a openly nihilistic cash grab artistry be damned, but I put that more along the lines of studio creations and reality show artists, where the money is the primary motivation but art can happen along the way. Then you get acts like Lil Dicky, who entered hip-hop to get famous to go on and do other things and to make a point that he could, which is one reason why so much of his music is one-note, nakedly contemptuous of good taste and tends to suck.

And then there's Zeal & Ardor, an act that when I first heard about it I was genuinely excited - following the wake of Algiers to fuse traditionally black spirituals, soul, and blues with black metal, that sounded awesome and indeed my first few listens really sucked me in... until I started seeing interviews where the band's frontman Manuel Gagneux said the band primarily started as a joke and dare on 4chan. And that would be fine - execution can overrule original intent, and I've seen art made for worse reasons - but both black metal and spirituals are two genres and styles that prize authenticity, and co-opting the latter for a cheap Satanic inversion felt in poor taste, especially given the current state of affairs in the world. But then something strange happened: the first Zeal & Ardor record actually got critical traction, and suddenly Gagneux had to expand a concept that he had approached somewhat haphazardly on the debut for something with a little more meat, and I was curious how on earth he could follow it up, especially considering he named the record in a clear reference to the Billie Holiday song. Maybe he'd take on these topics with more gravity, so okay... what did we find on Stranger Fruit?

Sunday, June 10, 2018

video review: 'hell-on' by neko case

Well, this took WAY too damn long to finish... but again, when you have a record with this much going on, you kind of have to dig in deep.

Next up, we're going really underground, so stay tuned!

album review: 'hell-on' by neko case

I'm a little surprised in spite of myself that this is the first time I'm talking about a Neko Case solo record - I've talked about her with The New Pornographers and with case/lang/veirs, but Neko Case has had a distinctive and critically acclaimed presence outside of her other groups and side projects, and considering my fondness for sharp-as-hell songwriting married to vocals overflowing with charisma and production...

Well okay, this is where things get tricky, because when I took the time to revisit Neko Case's entire discography, I found myself naturally being drawn to the alternative country murder ballads that characterized her very early work like Blacklisted and Fox Confessor Brings The Flood - the jagged guitars working through interesting melodies with more ragged production, it just proved more distinctive and potent in comparison with her more refined and experimental but more mild work like her albums in 2009 and 2013. I'm not saying either record is bad - hell, you could make the argument that the writing and hooks were sharper than ever - but it couldn't help but feel like some of the greater edge had been tempered. What I was looking to hear was the return of some anger and firepower, or at the very least the production picking up some righteous fervor... and considering what I had heard surrounding Hell-On, we could be getting the best of both worlds, especially as she corralled a pretty impressive list of collaborators - spanning from perennial frustration of mine Mark Lanegan to her bandmates k.d. Lang and Laura Veirs, the latter who I covered on the Trailing Edge earlier this year. So hell yeah, I was looking forward to this kicking ass, especially with all the critical acclaim it's received, so how is Hell-On?

Thursday, June 7, 2018

video review: 'butter' by karen jonas

Okay, this is pretty great - not quite as strong as her last two, but still really enjoyable, definitely take the time to check this out!

Next up... man, I could do with some Neko Case right about now, so enjoy!

album review: 'butter' by karen jonas

I'll freely admit I'm not surprised by Karen Jonas' artistic direction in indie country. That's not to disparage said direction - beginning in the hardbitten, world-weary acoustic grit of indie country to a more relaxed and lush Bakersfield sound, all coaxed through writing that's subtle enough to emphasize the details but conveyed with the intimacy and charisma to really suck the audience in, it's a natural progression as Jonas has built up steam among critics and fans alike. And it feels comfortable - I may have been won over initially by the edge, but Jonas has avoided histrionics and it makes her brand of burnished country feel impressively sensual and mature, she's got that pure magnetism.

And thus I wasn't really surprised she was picking up elements of jazz, blues, ragtime, and barroom soul for her newest project Butter, which she herself has described as her most broad to date... but I was a bit worried. Part of this is the fact that this cross-section of sounds in indie country has been pretty saturated in the 2010s, but also because Jonas is the sort of singer-songwriter who has been at her best leveraging subtlety, so I wasn't sure if going bigger and broader would pay off - and again, I'd have a wealth of comparison points in this style for when it's done right. But hey, what did we get from Butter?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

video review: 'ye' by kanye west

Well, this is already contentious... seriously, some of you really need to get off of Kanye's dick, it's kind of embarrassing...

Anyway, probably Karen Jonas next... although that NateWantsToBattle record is tempting, so we'll see. Stay tuned!

album review: 'ye' by kanye west

I remember when it felt like a new Kanye West album was an event. I mean, hate him or love him and there's ample room for both sides of that conversation, he was a good enough producer at least to monopolize the conversation, and he took enough chances to at least generate some interesting music that felt fiercely relevant to the cultural conversation.

It doesn't feel like that with ye - and Kanye tried to make it feel like that, with the overloaded spectacle of piling up album releases one after the other with deadlines that seem impossible and production that can't help but feel incredibly rushed. And as much as I dig DAYTONA by Pusha-T, I knew that was a fluke, because Pusha-T is a great rapper who only really needed the fat trimmed away. With Kanye putting out a seven song record, the list of things that could go wrong seems to stretch on for miles - badly chosen features, incompetent rapping, sloppy vocal arrangements, inconsistent production, and that's before we get into some of the provocative commentary that have revealed a talented artist holds some painfully undercooked, ill-informed, or just flat out stupid opinions that too many people have validated for too long. It led to many people saying Kanye was cancelled, but I knew that was never going to last, so I just refused on principle to give his material more attention when I had more interesting projects up first on the docket. But this is what the people wanted, so what did we get out of ye?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 9, 2018 (VIDEO)

And now we have a busy but overall pretty damn good week, I'm generally pleased with this.

Next up... okay, fine, we'll deal with the elephant in the room, and I won't have a lot of mercy - stay tuned!

video review: 'prequelle' by ghost

I have to keep remembering to post these video updates here... anyway, solid record, but it should be better - enjoy!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 9, 2018

...well, I can't say that the Hot 100 doesn't surprise me occasionally. I was expecting some fallout from the Pusha-T and Drake beef, but the most we got was the worst song to come out of it and half of Pusha-T's album! And when you pair it with all the rest of the scattered entries, this week wound up feeling surprisingly busy...

Monday, June 4, 2018

album review: 'prequelle' by ghost

There's a part of me that finds it really weird how big Ghost are becoming as a band.

That's not to disparage the talent behind the group, of course - in terms of metal they've hit the increasingly rare sweet spot of being able to merge progressive and heavy tendencies with actual melodies and hooks and a commitment to a gimmick that I respect a great deal. A little over-the-top and theatrical, sure, but if the music remains kick-ass like it did on the self-titled debut and Meliora, I wasn't going to complain. But that sort of theatricality tends to ostracize bands, especially with Ghost tilting so heavily into blatantly Satanic material - say what you will about Black Sabbath and classic metal bands, if you dug into their content they tended to avoid that, and even for an act like KISS that leaned even harder into their image, the content rarely backed up the spectacle.

And yet Ghost has doggedly remained committed to the content and the gimmick, and with their rising fame and in the age of the internet, that's genuinely impressive... although I had to question how much longer it would last, especially as the frontman's identity was leaked and all his former bandmates quit and then sued him for treating Ghost like a glorified solo project. And yet after a tumultuous few years for the group - including winning a Grammy - Ghost has recruited a new set of musicians and have a new record, one that was reportedly aiming to be their most accessible to date... which can be a loaded qualifier when it comes to any metal act looking to make a pivot towards mainstream rock radio, but I was curious where the hell this could be going, especially given how awesome their last record was, so how is Prequelle?

video review: 'god's favorite customer' by father john misty

And here's the first review of the night... but it's not over yet, stay tuned!

album review: 'god's favorite customer' by father john misty

So there comes two distinctive times in every singer-songwriter's life, especially if they've got a theatrical slant and even more especially if they've had any degree of crossover success. The first is the concept record: the overblown, overwrought 'statement of the human condition' record that often proves to be the point where even diehard fans start looking for the exits. These are the records that end careers, full stop... but if they don't, you get the second case: the inevitable comedown release, the one that might try to win back the fanbase but crystallizes more on the wide-eyed, panicked feeling that you have nothing else to say and thus are going to collapse inwards in spectacular fashion. They're often just as pretentious but considerably more uncomfortable, the artist ripping away any veneer in grotesque, self-destructive fashion to expose the humanity within, when the artist holes up in a mansion or hotel and truly starts to fly off the rails - and sometimes more rails than you might realize.

And I'm not remotely surprised that Josh Tillman aka Father John Misty took both of these steps, especially considering the narrow line he walks between biting self-aware satire and genuine earnestness which manifested most strongly on the breakthrough record I Love You Honeybear in 2015. And thus with Pure Comedy we got the overblown concept record and now... look, the seeds have been planted for years, Tillman knew he'd have to go down this rabbit hole in the same way Dylan and Beck and Berninger and Cave have, for as much as he has deconstructed his ego and artistic persona, it's still one he has yet to truly set on fire, and God's Favorite Customer looked like it would be that moment. And I'll admit records with these themes really get under my skin in a great way - beyond just the artistic deconstruction and raw humanity exposed, for an artist with such intense self-awareness of the artifice of his image and the crowd that has embraced it, ironically or otherwise, as Josh Tillman, he would know exactly what buttons to push, a You're The Worst-episode made flesh. In other words, this could be a total trainwreck and I'd be here for it, so what did we get on God's Favorite Customer?

trailing edge - episode 006 - may 2018 (VIDEO)

Heh, nearly forgot to post this... ten records too, lots to cover. Anyway, I've got multiple reviews coming tonight, so stay tuned!