Tuesday, August 28, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 25, 2018 (VIDEO)

Man alive, this took WAY too damn long to put out - hell, I had something ready in Birmingham, but the footage got corrupted. But not to worry, I've got more reviews on the docket and then the next episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'stay dangerous' by yg / 'freddie' by freddie gibbs / 'tables turn' by fredo (VACATION REVIEW!)

Took a while to get to this... but it took even longer to get to...

video review: 'queen' by nicki minaj

Man, I'm behind at posts here... let's catch up with mediocrity and move on to...

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

album review: 'queen' by nicki minaj

I've never been one to give Nicki Minaj a free pass.

Yes, even in the beginning when she was one of the few women making serious moves in hip-hop's mainstream at the time with a ton of charisma and occasionally some striking wordplay. Whatever you could say about Nicki, she had the charisma and presence to be a provocateur and a contender for the throne for women in hip-hop, at least in the mainstream. Sure, someone like me might point to the underground and rattle off the names of a dozen MCs to whom I'd prefer to give that pedestal, and I've not been shy about pointing out my issues with Nicki even in the mainstream - the construction of her bars can get really slapdash, and borderline lazy, her pop pivots have more misses than hits, and she's proven more willing than most to embrace a caricature of her image if it would give her success - but very few of her fanbase gave a damn about that. So long as they got the snapshots of genuine promise, they were able to tolerate her overlong and incredibly uneven records. Not bad records, but for every high there were steep lows.

But deep down I knew it wouldn't last - the tidal wave of hungry and razor-sharp MCs from the underground was growing bigger with every year, and while Nicki was able to smack back Remy Ma and both Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks would mismanage their careers into the ground, the real challenger would be Cardi B, who not only had more consistent bars and charisma, but also seized the chart-topping success that had long eluded Nicki's biggest singles. And here's the thing: I wouldn't feel the need to bring up Cardi B if it wasn't so blatantly obvious that Nicki Minaj had internalized her as a serious threat, which has led her to so many baffling promotional missteps in the rollout of Queen along with songs that made it clear she was not taking even the mere presence of competition well. Like her fellow Young Money peer Drake, she had been shaken when truly challenged, and despite the protests of her Barbie fanbase, it looked like it was backfiring onto Queen, leading to critical opinions that were all over the damn map. And since I've never claimed to be a fan or a hater, I had the hopes this would work - I've been hard on Nicki but that's because I've always seen volumes of tremendous potential, so did Queen turn out okay?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 18, 2018 (VIDEO)

Okay, a Travis Scott episode... but honestly, not a terrible one to put together, it just went a little long to put together.

Next up... ugh, let's deal with Nicki Minaj, stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 18, 2018

...look, it's the week of Travis Scott. Yes, there were other debuts and we'll be giving them a little bit more time, but this is the week Astroworld rolled over the Hot 100 thanks to much of the same sort of juicy Spotify payola - I mean I promotion that Drake got. But while this means that all seventeen songs from the album charted - pray for my soul - it's at least a better record than Scorpion was, arguably one of the better album bombs this year, and at the very least I don't expect it to last, especially given that next week Nicki Minaj will likely net some sort of chart success right behind him, and then Ariana Grande behind them!

Monday, August 13, 2018

video review: 'the great depression' by as it is

Well, this was a thing. Certainly a thing. And probably not one I'm going to revisit much soon...

Anyway, Billboard BREAKDOWN with entirely too much Travis Scott ahead, then probably Nicki Minaj - stay tuned!

album review: 'the great depression' by as it is

So I remember hearing some promising things about this pop punk band a few years back and while the production was perhaps a shade more polished and the lyrics a shade less interesting than I'd personally prefer, the hooks were pretty damn strong and that gave me hope for what could be next... and then I started digging through their next few projects and coming to the realization that it might be all they have...

Wait, didn't I already make this review for State Champs? Do you guys understand why I typically leave these bands for Jon over at ARTV if I can't tell most of their material apart? Now in fairness, As It Is did seem to have a slightly different formula, with the second singer and slightly more pop-centric production focus and slightly more emo lyrics... which seemingly came at the cost of good production and any sense of weight. Yeah, I hate to echo a lot of other critics here, but despite being a slightly more dynamic group, both As It Is records are a lot more uneven than I can really excuse and the hooks never quite had the same punch as Neck Deep or State Champs, to say nothing of the upper tier bands in this format - generally passable, but rarely better. And yet I was curious to give The Great Depression a full review - apparently the band had gotten darker and more ambitious in a dive towards more abrasive emo material, which is really the sort of edge that this group could desperately need, so I was definitely interested. So okay, what did we get with The Great Depression?

Sunday, August 12, 2018

video review: 'i travel on' by jason eady

So yeah, not quite blown away by this one, but it's still genuinely great all the same. Definitely check it out!

video review: 'swimming' by mac miller

I have to admit I'm a bit surprised there wasn't more of a negative reaction to this... but hey, I guess Mac Miller fans are level-headed enough to not go nuts here, good to see.

But now onto something WAY better...

album review: 'i travel on' by jason eady

I've said this a number of times before, but it bears repeating: if you're looking for about the purest expression of indie country being produced in modern times, you pick up a Jason Eady record. The man has the uncanny ability to write songs where you're struck by how the hell nobody would have composed them before as they seem so elemental and straightforward, with the sort of layered nuance and eye for detail that pushes his material into damn near transcendent territory. There's nothing gratuitous or indulgent or wasted and with records like 2014's Daylight & Dark and 2017's self-titled release, he's released country that rises to the apex of the genre...

But there has been two criticisms of his work, both of which I get but neither of which bother me all that much, the first being that his songs can be a little too heavy and melancholy, which often leads to the follow-up that his work as a whole can feel a bit sedate and sleepy at points. I disagree with both points - the writing and compositions are tight and emotionally gripping enough that it's never bothered me, and it's not like his records run long - but Eady has taken those notes to heart and it led to a shift in the creation of this surprisingly quick follow-up project... which if possible stripped things down even further. No overdubs, primarily acoustic, recruiting two ringers from bluegrass of all things - although Eady has made it very clear that he'd never call this a pure bluegrass album, showing the sort of respect and consideration for the art you rarely ever see anymore for any genre - but with a focus on quicker tempos and a feel as if everyone was in the same room for the recording. Now on the one hand I had no idea how much Eady might be able to emphasize that even more - his records have always sounded incredibly intimate in their production - and while I was a little shocked how quickly these songs emerged, I definitely wanted to hear them as soon as possible, so what did we get from I Travel On?

Friday, August 10, 2018

album review: 'swimming' by mac miller

If there was a review I did not want to do, it's this one.

And I know that sounds bad, believe me, but it comes from a place of frustration on my part more than anything - because I tried to get into Mac Miller. I really did, I revisited every single damn record in his discography before this review, I wanted to really understand what the hell his audience sees in him spanning a career that's evolved from dumbass frat-bro rap to something a little more pensive and reflective. And I can't deny the guy has decent taste when it comes to production and guest stars - he'll shell out for some impressive lush and detailed instrumentals, from his textured grimy hip-hop on records like Watching Movies With The Sound Off and GO:OD AM to the jazzy R&B of The Divine Feminine.

But man alive, I just cannot get into him as a performer, rapper or singer. As a rapper, his wordplay is often way clumsier than it should be and I've never remotely been impressed by his content or any sense of thematic weight and as a singer... Look, there's a way his vocal timbre and delivery could potentially work if you pair it with more amateurish, rough-around-the-edges production or truly raw subject matter - it's what Chance and Tyler did - but when you place him opposite so many genuinely talented R&B singers and genuinely great production, it's impossible for me not to cringe at how flat, off-key and sloppy his singing is! You put him on songs with Anderson .Paak, Bilal, Cee-Lo and Ariana Grande and you expect him to not sound instantly outclassed in every way, and that's before you get to the fact that he can have shockingly little charisma as an MC, and this is coming from a guy who listens to more deceptively low-key and monotone rappers than him, but guys like Evidence and LMNO have a magnetism and intensity that Mac Miller has never had! And when you couple it with too many albums that all have a bad case of the bloat, I was not looking forward to another hour long project from Mac Miller with Swimming - but hey, it was either this or watching YG fumble things and that looks to be even more depressing, so screw it, how is Swimming?

video review: 'astroworld' by travis scott

Well, this was underwhelming, but thanks for sticking with me for a thousand video reviews! :D hope you enjoy the challenge, it's a bit of a nightmare - good luck!

Next up... well, I've got my own endurance trial ahead, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 11, 2018 (VIDEO)

Hey look, the Hot 100 was crap enough that I completely forgot to update here, go figure.

Anyway, the more important update is...

Thursday, August 9, 2018

album review: 'astroworld' by travis scott

I've got conflicted feelings about Travis Scott. I liked him as a producer for his ability to deliver some forward-thinking, massive production, but then Rodeo happened and while many celebrated it for the wide range of collaborators and his uncanny ability to deliver terrific hooks, many of the tones and heft I liked about his production had evaporated, especially around Travis Scott as an MC who could assemble a decent flow but was far from lyrical or all that interesting. Then Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight happened... and contrary to pretty much everyone, I actually liked that more than Rodeo - I don't know what to tell you, the production and hooks clicked more strongly, the collaborations were more consistent, and while the content was borderline nonsensical, it at least felt more cohesive. Less experimental or challenging, sure - and that Huncho Jack collab project with Quavo didn't help matters - but for the first time the appeal started to click.

And then I saw Travis Scott live, opening for Kendrick Lamar, and what might have clicked before really connected there, but left me with more questions. Travis Scott could be such a force of personality on stage, a consummate hype man and real personality, so why he's tried to dampen it with so many slurred-over layers and effects or muffle it with overloaded lists of guest stars is utterly beyond me. And when I started seeing the critical acclaim piled onto Astroworld... look, I wasn't sure what to expect at this point, but I did see he got Pharrell, The Weeknd, and Tame Impala all on the same song, so the spectacle might be worth the price of admission. So what the hell, how is Astroworld?

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

video review: 'rituals' by deaf havana

Man, I really wish I dug this a lot more than I do... eh, it happens.

But I'm coming up on the 1000th review... and I've got something special bundled with that, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 11, 2018

You know, sometimes you just want to take the cooldown weeks when you can - given the streaming numbers I know Travis Scott has an album bomb coming for Astroworld, and while I haven't reviewed the record proper just yet, I can only imagine how big the impact will be on the rest of the Hot 100... joy.

album review: 'rituals' by deaf havana

I've said this a number of times before, but about eighteen months ago, if you had told me that Deaf Havana would have wound up with a record on my list of the best of 2017, along with multiple songs making my other lists... well, I wouldn't have called you crazy, but I would have been extremely skeptical. But that's because All These Countless Nights by Deaf Havana isn't the sort of record that folks would expect to put on year-end lists - the production was arguably less colorful than their previous record, and the mood had taken a severe turn for the melancholy. It was a record wracked by drifting numbness, and I'm not surprised at all that it didn't resonate for everyone.

And yet for me it really did, mostly because the hooks were as strong as ever and the writing had improved by leaps and bounds - and I want to highlight that specifically, because that's the sort of advancement for a band that puts them in a higher tier, regardless of their sound. If you're great composers and lyricists, even if the production doesn't go your way you'll have a layer of underlying quality, and that gave me a lot of hope going into Rituals this year. Yeah, the buzz was not nearly as positive in comparison to All These Countless Nights, mostly thanks to the band making a pivot towards pop tones like every other rock band going right now, but I wasn't against this in theory: they've always had a strong pop undercurrent when it came to melody, and it's not like I'm against retro-80s pop rock on principle, so what did we get out of Rituals?

Monday, August 6, 2018

trailing edge - episode 007 - july 2018 (VIDEO)

And here we are... goddamn, this took way too much work to finish.

Anyway, let's move on to the next album on the docket, and this'll be tricky... stay tuned!

movie review: 'christopher robin' (VIDEO)

So I wasn't kidding when I said that I loved this movie - I genuinely do, it's so goddamn touching and subtle and beautifully consistent in themes and tone, just absolutely wonderful. I think that it won't resonate for everyone as much as it did me, but still, SO damn good!

video review: 'vicious' by halestorm

Okay, first to catch up on some old business by posting this, but that's not all that's coming...

Thursday, August 2, 2018

album review: 'vicious' by halestorm

The last time I reviewed Halestorm, it didn't go very well.

Actually, that's probably putting it mildly, given that this a band I've repeatedly tried to get into and have felt consistently let down time and time again, be it by underwhelming writing, unexceptional melodies, or inconsistent production, the last of which utterly crippled any enjoyment I got out of their third album Into The Wild Life, produced by Jay Joyce seemingly before he hit his stride later that year. And from there, I'll freely admit Halestorm has not been on my radar whatsoever. And with their new album... well, it showed up on my schedule and they'd gotten rid of Jay Joyce, but they'd replaced him with Nick Raskulinecz, who you might know better for producing the comeback records for Alice In Chains and chunks of the more mainstream-accessible Mastodon records, and the last underwhelming Rise Against album... and the worst Ghost album.

So okay, not precisely a good sign, and I'll freely admit I was skeptical when I saw the band professing that this was going to be the one where we truly see all sides of the band and this was the one that was going to win us over... and I hate to be that guy, but I've heard this press run before at least twice, and while it seems like a fair number of critics were won over here, I'll admit I had low expectations. So what did we get with Vicious?

video review: 'lifers' by cody jinks

Hmm, a little surprised there hasn't been much of a backlash to this one yet... eh, I guess we'll see how it ages.

Next up... well, I don't have a ton to say, but I might as well talk about Halestorm. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

album review: 'lifers' by cody jinks

I'm not going to claim to be ahead of the curve when it came to covering Cody Jinks in 2016. I was aware of his name and a few of his projects, especially his excellent Less Wise, but when I was going into I'm Not The Devil right before I took off for vacation, I was expecting a pretty damn solid Texas country record and that's effectively what I got...

And then it seemed like the floodgates burst open, and Cody Jinks' name started getting passed around a fair bit more beyond just the indie country and Texas country circuits, and I can tell you right now it didn't have much to do with me. No, if there was an unsung strength of I'm Not The Devil it was how Jinks leveraged the thickness and dramatic heft of his sound with an approach to melodic hooks that honestly reminded a bit of Garth Brooks in terms of composition. I might gravitate to the rougher textures of his earlier projects like Less Wise and 30, but I'm Not The Devil balanced that with some of his best ever hooks, and that got people to take serious notice - he moved a surprising amount of units, and given how much he's risen it's hard not to think he's on the cusp of a serious grassroots breakthrough to rival most of the indie scene right now. So you can bet I was eagerly anticipating his follow-up this year Lifers, which critical buzz did not place as his best work, but still great all the same. Okay, still cautiously optimistic, how did it turn out?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 4, 2018 (VIDEO)

So this was... generally pretty okay, I think. Yeah, let's go with that.

Next up, Cody Jinks - stay tuned!