Tuesday, December 10, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 14, 2019 (VIDEO)


Alright, Fen review is coming, plus one from my backlog that I've long been curious to get through before the last two 'must-cover' projects of the year. Then we're going to have some fun, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 14, 2019

I've described weeks on the Hot 100 as 'deceptively busy', where it seems like there's a lot of shuffling around but not a lot has really happened in the long-term. Just as common, though, are the weeks where I'd argue there's a little more going on a deceptively quiet week - just because there weren't many new arrivals which'll thankfully keep this shorter doesn't mean there aren't things worth watching, especially for the implications to come.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

video review: 'romance' by camila cabello


Yeah, before I get to Fen I might as well talk about this - stay tuned!

album review: 'romance' by camila cabello

The popularity of Camila Cabello seems to have to do with everything except the music itself.

And that's a loaded statement, but let's run through it: the widely-publicized split from Fifth Harmony, a well-managed Instagram glam presence when a lot of mainstream pop acts don't really play that game conventionally, and the increasingly cringe-worthy back-and-forth she has with Shawn Mendes with seems to be trying a little too hard to be believable or likable. And in the 2019 mainstream pop market, that might be enough to stand out... even as I can't help but see a faint whiff of similar marketing that Jennifer Lopez used over fifteen years ago in the early 2000s.

And like that era of J.Lo, Camila Cabello's music is bad and riding way more on a faint approximation of style than vocal talent or quality. By far the worst vocalist from Fifth Harmony thanks to her breathy, chewy delivery and weak shrillness, her debut Camila was an exercise in amateurish production that provided more texture than her by-the-numbers forgettable material deserved. And like J.Lo ahead of her, her popularity translating to success lives and dies on the hits, and when you look at her solo output that's not a sterling record. Yes, 'Senorita' was massive, but let's be real: swap out Camila for Becky G or Karol G and doesn't the song get immediately better, maybe because the song is more reliant on brand and marketing? Because when Camila has been required to carry hits by herself, 'Shameless' was a flop because it was a flagrant attempt to co-opt the darker pop edge, and even with the benefit of the crossover Latin market 'Liar' has underperformed. So to hear that her label was dumping this album in early December - I mean, it's not January like last time, but to me that screams like Epic and Syco - the latter of which, I should remind you, is run by Simon Cowell - dumping a turd that doesn't even have a 'Havana' for crossover, especially given the messy recording process that was Camila in 2018. So yeah, this likely wasn't any good - what did we get?

Friday, December 6, 2019

video review: '2020' by richard dawson


So I'm thinking I might skirt controversy by being late on this one... we'll have to see. Anyway, tomorrow seems a little overstuffed with things for me to get done, but I still do want to get this Camila Cabello review done (sigh), so stay tuned!

album review: '2020' by richard dawson

Yeah, this one has been long in coming.

Okay, some context: I first became aware of Richard Dawson in 2017 for his album Peasant, which got the sort of critical acclaim that prompted me to take a look at his back catalog - hell, at some point I'm fairly certain he was added to my schedule and I just ran out of time to cover him, because 2017 was like that. But I checked out his early albums and... well, I've always been a little uncomfortable with the term 'outsider artist', but especially on those early projects full of half-formed, ramshackle folk music with oblique lyrics and awkward singing, it did feel appropriate. And it wasn't my thing - not helped by the fact that his songs and albums ran long - but I got the impression that if things tightened up I could get into it. And going back to Peasant now, it has the feel of pastoral folk music from the middle ages run through warped contortions both in the writing and composition, taking the odd romanticism to which some treat that particular era of history and making it as realistically grotesque as possible across its fables. Which... okay, I appreciate deconstruction and satire and even this era of history, but I struggled to see what deeper point he was trying to make about that era, and despite slightly more conventional structures, I wasn't really loving the music enough to go for the deep dive.

So when his newest album 2020 was proclaimed his most accessible project to date and one moving its satire to the modern age to a lot of critical acclaim... look, I've seen a ton of people love this album and I do like some folk weirdness, so what did we get on 2020?

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 7, 2019 (VIDEO)


So it might not be obvious, but I've had a fucking miserable night trying to get all of this put together. Jesus Fucking CHRIST, YouTube can fellate several shotgun barrels, their horrible UI design and worthless back-end deserves all the scorn in the world and every developer and QA tester should be fired into the goddamn sun.

ANYWAY, I have no idea what I'm going to review next, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 7, 2019


So regardless of any scattered tidbits of information we might get the next week or two, I'm at least confident that this week is in the 2020 Billboard year - a pretty busy week too, mostly thanks to the abortive mini-album bomb of Trippie Redd and the return of Christmas music, but I guess I'll take what I can get here as the charts continue to slow down as we head deeper into the holidays?

resonators 2019 - episode #023 - 'internal affairs' by pharoahe monch (VIDEO)


Oh, this is going to piss people off... eh, I stand by it. Billboard BREAKDOWN is up next, so stay tuned!

resonators 2019 - episode #023 - 'internal affairs' by pharoahe monch

I think I'm in the quarter of Resonators entries where I'm just going to be reviewing acts that I otherwise know and and like a great deal already - a little different than the discovery and research that came from last year's genre, but when the albums are pretty consistently great, am I supposed to complain?

Anyway, the story of this artist begins in the late 80s with the duo with the very timely name Simply II Positive MCs - in a desire to remain more marketable in changing times they'd rename themselves to Organized Konfusion and begin releasing critically acclaimed cult albums throughout the the 90s. And while the critics adored them for forward-thinking content and a unique sound in the era of gangsta rap, their eclectic and varied delivery and lyricism meant they never really saw mainstream success - kind of a damn shame because they didn't skimp on hooks or catchiness either, but that happens more than it should in the underground even today. But three albums in and after a particularly ambitious but mostly failed 1997 project The Equinox, the duo decided to split amicably and go their separate ways to chase solo crossover - and when you consider both had been rapping and producing their own projects through the entire decade, it's not surprising they wanted to thin out their workload and narrow their focus. It would take a relatively long time for member Prince Po to land his solo debut with The Slickness in 2004 to generally positive coverage, but the other rapper would receive immediate acclaim with his release in 1999 on Rawkus, featuring a murder's row of collaborators and later highlighted as one of the best hip-hop debuts of all time. And given that I've talked about this artist before and it's near the twentieth anniversary of its release - and the long-awaited re-release on streaming platforms long thought impossible thanks to sample clearance issues - it's time we go back to the source: this is Internal Affairs by Pharoahe Monch, and this is Resonators!

Monday, December 2, 2019

video review: 'ghetto cowboy' by yelawolf


Okay, so Resonators is going to be dropping at some point tomorrow evening along with Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'ghetto cowboy' by yelawolf

So when I reviewed Yelawolf's Trunk Muzik III earlier this year, I made the observation that you could tell he wasn't happy with his label Shady, under the purview of Eminem. Actually, that's probably an understatement, because with every listen I gave that album I got the unpleasant impression that not only did it feel like a slapdash rush to get something out that would get him away from Shady, he did it by getting a verse from Machine Gun Kelly to boot as a final middle finger to them. And on some level I couldn't really blame Yelawolf - at this point Shady's inability to promote any artist who is not named Eminem towards mainstream success is becoming common knowledge, and given that he could have easily made a killing in a year where hip-hop and country crossovers were surging in the mainstream, it's more than a little depressing that didn't happen.

But at the time I also said that I was worried Trunk Muzik III didn't leave Yelawolf in the best place going forward if he wanted to hop to another label - but that was assuming he was going to chase another major label at all. Instead, less than a year later we have Ghetto Cowboy, where Yelawolf has trimmed down his features for a leaner project on his own label Slumerican for a pretty quick rebound, and while I tend to be skeptical of artists releasing more than one album in a year, given what he was leaving I was inclined to be supportive. And hey, I'm a Yelawolf fan and I was pleased to see this sell a bit better than I was expecting, so maybe there was something worthwhile here, so what did we get on Ghetto Cowboy?

Saturday, November 30, 2019

the top ten best hit songs of 2011 (VIDEO)


And here we are - great list to put together, really happy y'all seemed to enjoy watching it, and it's the last of the retro lists finished for the 2010s!

Next up, I've got an episode of Resonators coming so stay tuned!

the top ten best hit songs of 2011

You know, I've said a number of times that my favourite lists to make are the top ten hits of any respective year, mostly because I have peculiar taste when it comes to my favourites and any chance to compliment songs people have actually heard... well, it's a nice boost. And once this is done - and with the exception of 2019 - I will have created these top tens for every year in the 2010s, and given that seemingly everyone is doing a retrospective, it does feel nice to place everything back in context.

But really, if you're examining 2011 in any way, shape, or form, it's a year that defies easy contextualization. Generally a really good year - although I still give a slight edge to the best of 2012 and 2015 - but not one that seemed to fit with any specific trends or sounds. If anything, it felt more like a year dominated by personalities, from the dueling pop divas to the rise of Adele's thunderous 21, an album that seemingly defied all expectations with its success. Yeah, rock was kind of non-existent on the Hot 100 - and you could argue hip-hop was kind of a mixed bag sliding through transition from the club boom - but between pop, soul, R&B, and a surprisingly bright year for country, there was a lot to like about 2011. More importantly, it was a year where the great songs were consistently great, where I didn't even have much difficulty filling out a solid - albeit surprising - list of Honourable Mentions. As always, the songs had to debut on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end list in 2011 to qualify, so let's get things started with...

Thursday, November 28, 2019

video review: 'desert dove' by michaela anne


Well, about time I got to this... genuinely great album, so happy I can finally cover it.

Next up... whoo boy, I've got a top ten list, Resonators, and a review that's probably long-overdue... stay tuned!

album review: 'desert dove' by michaela anne

So here's the problem with discussing trends in an independent or underground scene: they're much tougher to contextualize. Some of this comes from the inability to hear all the acts that might be creating or shifting the sound - there are always more than you might think - some of it is rooted in the uneven speed in which such trends evolve, as some sounds will stick for years while others are gone before you know it. And in some cases just classifying the sounds as a 'trend' might be painting with too broad of a brush - there is such a thing as coincidence, after all, and sometimes a bunch of acts land in the same territory all at once; it can happen.

Of course, the success of one act relative to the mainstream can kick all of this into high gear and spread the influence further... so let's talk about the current wave of more 'atmospheric' country music, which I'm going to coin as 'dream country' in the vein of dream pop because I feel like it. And it's not far afield either: while the mainstream might have touched against some of the reverb-touched swell and spare sweep of it all in passing before hopping on the next snap beat, the indie scene has been delving deeper into the sounds with increasingly regularity, especially among the women who have been carving into this niche alongside jazzier tones and rockabilly. Often bringing in a lot of folk tones or a splash of psychedelia, you could point to crossover acts like Casualties of Cool or First Aid Kit, the sound has picked up more traction in recent years thanks to crossover projects like The Weight Of These Wings by Miranda Lambert and especially Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves, and that's not to snub fantastic indie acts like Courtney Marie Andrews, Angeleena Presley, or even the last country artist I covered here Caroline Spence who have delved into these tones with some regularity. And while similar tones have suffocated indie folk and indie rock in recent years, what I like about 'dream country' is how acts don't just suffocate themselves in a blissed-out 'vibe' - the tones only accentuate huge voices, jagged touches of texture, and a lonely vibe that gives space to dig into the details. It's also a sound many have highlighted has its roots in California or the folk-leaning 'canyon' sound... which finally takes us to Michaela Anne. She's another artist who slid onto my backlog early thanks to how I liked her pretty straightforward 2014 album Ease My Mind, but I'll admit my interest cooled a bit with her followup Bright Lights and the Fame from 2016, which embraced more dream country textures on some of the deep cuts but also felt weirdly messy at points and trying for more neotraditional country jauntiness that it could convincingly land, at least for me. Unfortunately, her label started going through financial trouble, which stymied the album's promotion and left her in trouble, so she took the risk to move to California, sign to another indie label, and take a major financial risk to write and create Desert Dove. And given the buzz was some of the best she'd seen to date, what did we get here?

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 30, 2019 (VIDEO)


Oh boy, this was a total mess... and about the last time I'm properly rendering a video in 4K, because I'm not entirely pleased with how this turned out when it came to this timeline. Anyway, next up... not sure, as the schedule gets messy, but we'll see how it turns - enjoy!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 30, 2019

You know, normally Billboard is a bit more organized when they delineate when their tracking year begins and ends - not this year. A lot of this is tied into some of the messiness that came when they adjusted their tracking week to be closer to current activity instead being so far post-dated, but since the calendar doesn't exactly correlate, this could well be counted as a 53rd week in this year... or the first next year. It's annoying, to say the least, but I'll adjust my records and thumbnail as we get new information.

Monday, November 25, 2019

video review: 'hyperspace' by beck


And here we go - I think some folks might be a little surprised by this one, but still a decent project. Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN and then maybe something out of my backlog a bit overdue, so stay tuned!

album review: 'hyperspace' by beck

I didn't even do a full review of Beck's last album.

And I wanted to, believe me - I've been a fan of Beck for years, his genre-blending combined with an uncanny knack for hooks and some ridiculously sharp songwriting has made him one of those artists emblematic of the mid-90s alternative scene, and often praised as an innovator... and yet time has not been all that kind to him. There hasn't been a serious critical reexamination of Beck's legacy by mainstream rock critics and I think I understand why: if they did, they might come to the abrupt realization that his motley pile-up of genres was more novelty and streamlined craftsmanship than genre-pushing experimentation. To quote music critic Steven Hyden, part of his charm was that he was a jack of all trades and a master of none, but that can be a curse years later when the genre fusions become routine and folks are no longer impressed - or in the age of broader music distribution and access to a broader array of underground albums that might not have been heard widely at the time, you realize even the genre fusions aren't that innovative. 

Granted, some of this wouldn't matter if Beck's music had aged a little better or kept up consistent quality. Yeah, Sea Change is heartbreaking and he always tends to wring out a solid single, but I'm not at all surprised that people were underwhelmed by Morning Phase, even if I still think it's a pretty great album with some phenomenally warm, well-blended textures. But it was also signifying that a guy who had once been framed as breaking from the establishment was very much becoming a part of it simply by getting older, and Colors was sadly a glaring example of this, not helped by Greg Kurstin giving him a sound that was paradoxically colourless - hell, even leaving it on the Trailing Edge I probably overrated it. Yes, I still like 'Wow' despite myself for being just kooky enough to connect, but if you want the biggest example of how Beck is in a very different space now than he was twenty years ago? I'll tell you: when I saw U2 a few years back, he was the opening act - yeah.

And thus, again, I had rock bottom expectations when it came to this new album. Yes, the fact that it was being co-produced with Pharrell of all people intrigued me - especially as I can see some real common ground between their brands of weirdness - but the last time Pharrell strayed into oddball production outside of hip-hop proper, we got sweetener from Ariana Grande, Wanderlust from Little Big Town, and Man Of The Woods from Justin Timberlake. So with all of that in mind, how is Hyperspace?

Sunday, November 24, 2019

video review: 'everyday life' by coldplay


Anyone who thinks critics enjoy making these kinds of reviews... yeah, no, this wasn't fun. I wanted to like this WAY more than I did.

And while I'm on that subject, I've got Beck up next - stay tuned!

album review: 'everyday life' by coldplay

It feels like it's been longer than it's actually been since I talked about Coldplay.

Now for you all that has more to do with Warner Music Group throwing a copyright block on my review of the last album to take it down worldwide only days after it was posted - because spineless violations of journalistic fair use are fun for the family - but the larger truth is that I just haven't had much incentive to seek or discuss Coldplay in the 2010s. Sure, they had a single pop up on my year-end list of the best hits of 2016 - that being 'Hymn For The Weekend' with Beyonce - but to be perfectly candid, it was more of a factor of the Hot 100 in 2016 being an absolute garbage fire rather than the song being a credible standout.

And yet this isn't coming from someone who as a critic dislikes this band, even if they've given me plenty of credible reasons - for the most part I like Coldplay, and they're incredible live. But if I were to compare the cyclical melodic progressions, strident crescendos, and willowy wistfulness of their best material across the 2000s, the 2010s have seen them flailing with pop and electronic pivots that don't fully play to those strengths, rarely bad but frequently underweight and bland. Granted, it didn't help the production quality took a nose dive when they ditched Brian Eno, but I'd argue the bigger problem was a collapse in dynamic range - at their best, Coldplay could take their broad abstractions to soar, feel like so much more than was present explicitly in the text, but with every layer of stiff percussion and underweight electronics, I just got no emotional impact. 

And thus I was worried about Everyday Life, because at this point, Coldplay's pop pivot wasn't going to stop, especially given Max Martin cowriting with them. And yet while this album was being advertised as a double album, in reality each disc was pretty short so this project still clocked under an hour - thank god. But hey, rock bottom expectations, there's nowhere to go but up, right, so how is Everyday Life?

Thursday, November 21, 2019

video review: 'mint condition' by caroline spence


Okay, extremely late for this one, but considering how many of my friends have recommended this time and time again, I figured I'd tackle it.

Next up... hmm, not sure yet, stay tuned!

album review: 'mint condition' by caroline spence

So we've reached the part of the year where the major releases have started to seriously dry up and I'm stuck poring over what I've missed - yes, I was thinking about covering Lady Antebellum or Madeon, but neither were particularly interesting in sound or content and that really is the reason why I created the Trailing Edge in the first place and how plans for next year will be able to rectify this sort of situation - stay tuned for an announcement mid-December about that - so why not go back and cover an indie country album that really intrigued me? That sounds more fun, right?

Well here's the thing: when I first starting researching for this album and went back to listen to Caroline Spence's 2015 project Somehow, I was really not impressed. Yeah, the vocals were pretty but the production was very sedate and low-key and I wasn't really wowed by the writing, so it took me months to work up the energy to dig deeper. And yet I'm really glad I did, because 2017's Spades & Roses is genuinely excellent, with way better vocal positioning, writing that had developed an idiosyncratic cadence and style and several deeper notches of nuance, and production that had taken its spare organic country vibe with just enough reverb and multi-tracking to accentuate the striking melodies - not quite as warm or strident as Courtney Marie Andrews, but absolutely playing in the same ballpark of quality. It was one of those projects that had me kicking myself I couldn't have found it two years ago, but it made me absolutely certain I had to cover Mint Condition, her album this year - so what did we get?

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 23, 2019 (VIDEO)


Well, this was... a week? Still wish I could get some damn confirmation on whether this is the last week of the Billboard year, but we'll have to see.

Anyway, it's going to be fascinating for next week, but in the mean time I think I'm going to handle something in my back catalog, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 23, 2019

Well, here we go folks: down to the last weeks of tracking the Billboard year (either this week or next week, I've yet to get clear info)... and yet I don't really get a finale vibe out of 2019. That's the frustrating thing when you try to cram a messy chart show into any sort of narrative, especially on a week that seemed relatively predictable, but here we are.

Monday, November 18, 2019

video review: 'magdalene' by fka twigs


So yeah, long-overdue after a busy weekend - was actually planning to have this out on Friday, but given a pretty light schedule ahead, we're going with it here. Enjoy!

album review: 'magdalene' by fka twigs

The last time I reviewed FKA twigs, it didn't really go well.

And again, this is one of those cases where of course there was backlash, but it did feel a little unfair - I wanted to like a lot of what I had heard on LP1, I recognized it was genre-pushing and beautifully sung and featured some pretty fascinating and layered lyrical content... but tonally it just didn't click for me. And I've relistened to the album plenty of times in the years since trying to get into it, with the assumption that as I learned more about experimental music and R&B it'd click more strongly... and yet it just didn't. Hell, even though I wasn't really covering EPs in 2015 I tried giving M3LL155X a chance as well over the years, and while I was more accustomed to the sonic palette she was using - you can really hear the fingerprints of Boots all over it, in a similar way to how Arca's influence coloured LP1, it just didn't grip me, a project I respected a hell of a lot more than I liked - which can happen with experimental music, and I've always found backlash for that a little misguided.

And thus I was reticent to cover the new album... until I saw the list of producers, which seemed to imply she was going in a more accessible direction, or at least one where I had more inroads. Sure, the names that'd jump out are Benny Blanco and Skrillex and Sounwave and Kenny Beats and even Jack Antonoff, but the names that caught more of my interest were Oneohtrix Point Never and Nicolas Jaar, the latter of whom has made electronic music I've really liked this decade. And considering the production was often the sticking point for me, maybe this would click way better, so how was MAGDALENE?

Thursday, November 14, 2019

video review: 'what you see is what you get' by luke combs


I'm honestly not sure how this will be received - silent majority acts like him always get a bit of an odd response, so we'll have to see how this goes down. Anyway, FKA Twigs is finally up next, so stay tuned!

album review: 'what you see is what you get' by luke combs

So I'm not too proud to admit that I screwed up in a big way by not covering Luke Combs' debut album.

Now to be completely fair, at the time I'm not sure anyone could have predicted how fast Luke Combs would rise in the cultural conversation, especially off of the badly produced, overmixed clunkers that passed for many of his singles. At best, they were tepid or kind of amusing in a very middlebrow, Tim McGraw sort of way, trafficking in broad relatability and underdog charm rather than much in the way of sharp songwriting or emotive punch, and when you tack on middling to bad production, I just wasn't all that interested outside of a passing fondness for 'When It Rains It Pours'.

And over the past few years, Luke Combs' star has risen high and fast, because as much as I might find that approach underwhelming or predictable, to mainstream country listeners it reflected a middle-of-the-road accessibility that wasn't always seen in the increasingly slick and anonymous dregs of bro-country, or the broad neotraditional pivot of Jon Pardi and his lane, much less the more untamed indie scene. Coupled with the fact that he looked the part of every down-home country boy who might be a little rough around the edges but had the best of intentions and I'm not at all surprised his mass appeal blew up across the industry, radio, and audiences. What I was more concerned about was how this would translate to the second album, especially as the singles seemed to reflect a more organic and thoughtful pivot, and while I knew he'd never dive completely into that lane, I did have some tempered expectations, especially as I knew he'd never fully ditch the overproduction. But hey, what did we find on What You See Is What You Get?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

video review: 'the juice: vol. 2' by emotional oranges


Here we go, folks - another great EP of R&B, absolutely check this out.

Next up, I think I'm ready to finally discuss Luke Combs at length, so stay tuned!

album review: 'the juice: vol. 2' by emotional oranges

In the past six or so months it's been fascinating to watch the rise of Emotional Oranges. I remember seeing them with buzz earlier this year - well-earned by dropping one of the best EPs in The Juice Vol. 1 - but that buzz has built momentum with a tour that has sold a lot better than I expected and a rapidly growing fanbase. No joke, when I saw them live not long ago, I was shocked how many people filled the room and were gripped by the live show of two barely seen silhouettes... that nevertheless performed incredibly well live with the chemistry of the duo translating remarkably.

But with added attention comes added scrutiny and criticism, and for Emotional Oranges, it came in two places I'd argue were expected and rather depressing: the group's relative anonymity, and the fact that the songs seemed a little too airtight and streamlined, a little too ruthlessly calculated to attain wider appeal. Now on the surface both of these criticisms might seem to make sense - even with the branding it does stunt curiosity in the personalities of the artists when they hide in the shadows, and that sleek construction thus comes across all the more mechanical... until you remember that the emotional complexities and interplay in the writing gave both of them plenty of personality and a unique dynamic, and the more organic, well-produced grooves and heavier reliance on guitar really did not match the trap-saturated R&B scene, nor really the more soulful contemporary R&B vibe, although they'd probably be closer to that category. Again, I'm surprised more of the obvious comparisons to The xx haven't shown up - you can recognize the critics who know - but I'll also admit that I was a little concerned about the second EP. I had heard snippets live and I wanted to hear how everything translated on record, especially as I'm always skeptical when artists drop multiple projects in a year when they could be combined into one stellar release with the fat trimmed. But okay, what did we get on The Juice Vol. 2?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 16, 2019 (VIDEO)


And here we go - bit of a messy recording process to get here, but here we are.

Next up, I think I'm ready to talk about Emotional Oranges, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 16, 2019

You know, it feels like it's been a while since we've had a week that I'd otherwise describe as 'normal' on the Hot 100 - a respectable number of entries, everything seems somewhat stable, only the rapidly fading remnants of an album bomb that's best forgotten. And it's also one of those 'normal' weeks that seems deceptively busy - more of a correction to what the equilibrium of the chart should have been the past few weeks, at least to me.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

video review: 'dusty' by homeboy sandman


Well, this was underrated as all hell and I'm thrilled I finally got to it - next up... hmm, I think it's going to be L'Orange next, so stay tuned!

album review: 'dusty' by homeboy sandman

Not going to lie, this was the album that inspired me to do a full week of underground hip-hop reviews.

And when I say that, it's more of a combination of things than this album directly, even though Homeboy Sandman has been on my radar for a while now and I actually covered him briefly on the Trailing Edge last year. And I've long regretted that being my public introduction to discussing Homeboy Sandman, because I'm not sure it reflected how much I genuinely loved his work when I did my deep dive in his back catalog. To me I put him in a similar category to Sage Francis and Brother Ali, an older guy who is just as much of a bruising, socially conscious MC with uniquely creative wordplay, but also a fan of kookier flows and melodies, and with a much more robust sense of humour. Like most artists in this fringe of the underground, he can be a bit of an acquired taste, but if you're fond of acts like Aesop Rock - with whom he's worked frequently - you'd probably like a lot of his work, particularly albums Actual Factual Pterodactyl from 2008, First Of A Living Breed from 2012, and Kindness For Weakness from 2016.

That said, when he put the EP Humble Pi last year with producer Edan... I still wasn't really crazy about it, and I still place a lot of my frustrations on the production. Don't get me wrong, I like my lo-fi boom-bap, but Homeboy Sandman has the sort of compositional acumen that allows him to build more developed songs, and the dustier production didn't always flatter his melodic sensibility as strongly. And that is why I was a little nervous about his newest project literally called Dusty, produced entirely by Mono En Stereo who in recent years has done a lot of work for Your Old Droog, another act that I should probably get to covering at length at some point. But hey, it was short, and I had already heard songs that were as quotable and hilarious as ever, so what did we get with Dusty?

Thursday, November 7, 2019

video review: 'secrets & escapes' by brother ali


Ugh, I really did want to love this... but it happens? Anyway, Homeboy Sandman is up next and I'm more excited about that one, so stay tuned!

album review: 'secrets & escapes' by brother ali

Well, this was well-timed for me - and came right the hell out of nowhere too! In the middle of when I was planning to make a week focusing on underground hip-hop, we get a surprise release - and from Brother Ali and Evidence of all people!

So let me back up - I first reviewed Brother Ali in 2017 for a project I was a little more lukewarm on than I'd prefer after a lengthy deep dive into his back catalog, which may not have been the best way to engage with that album not just because it forced him into comparison with some truly stellar work across the mid-2000s, but that it also remained remarkably solid throughout that crazy year, and the burst of aspirational optimism felt more grounded and human in this time than many other MCs in this lane. But I'll freely admit that he did slip a bit off my radar - as did Evidence, but that was more because he went quiet and I had the suspicion something was up, I just couldn't pin down what. And yet out of nowhere, Brother Ali dropped a short surprise release with the sort of features list that would make any underground hip-hop fan salivate: Pharoahe Monch, Talib Kweli, Evidence himself, all spit over a flurry of samples run through a 2-track compressor and utterly unconcerned with anyone's schedule or attention. Which is a luxury when you're underground stalwarts with diehard fanbases, but I sure as hell am not going to complain about the timing, so what did we get on Secrets & Escapes?

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

video review: 'FEET OF CLAY' by earl sweatshirt


Well, this'll be... controversial? Maybe? We'll have to see...

Next up, we've got either Brother Ali or Homebody Sandman - stay tuned!

album review: 'FEET OF CLAY' by earl sweatshirt

At this point, I've given up having expectations for Earl Sweatshirt. 

Granted, I think we all did with Some Rap Songs, a discordant jumble of jazzy, lo-fi hip-hop that had him sifting through messy questions of numb anger and grief, that felt more like a set of cast-off thoughts than a structured album. And it was certainly a project that I respected... but it wasn't really one I loved, and I got the impression it'd be considered divisive in Earl's larger discography. And while the critics bent over backwards to shower it with praise - which again, I understand, but the particular set of lo-fi tones he used just didn't connect as deeply as I'd like - you can tell that some hip-hop fans were a little hesitant with this direction for Earl, especially long-term. 

And thus when he announced he was dropping a surprise EP from out of nowhere, while a lot of people seemed surprised at the incredibly quick turnaround, I'll admit I wasn't, especially if Earl was continuing to self-produce in lo-fi. Flip and chop up the right sample, blend the percussion in, add bars and muddy mastering and you could have a follow-up, especially if the songs were only a few minutes in length and there was no expectation of hooks or structure; that's the hidden truth about some brands of lo-fi music, the audience that buys into this sound without deeper scrutiny will tolerate a lot more than even mainstream fans who just want bangers with hooks. Now granted, I didn't expect Earl to phone this in, but you can only say so much in about fifteen minutes of music, with the majority of songs under two minutes. So okay, what did we get on FEET OF CLAY?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 9, 2019 (VIDEO)


Well this took too long to get up - stupid copyright bullshit...

Anyway, Earl is coming very soon, plus we have Rock Coliseum coming tonight, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 9, 2019

You know, when I reviewed JESUS IS KING over a week ago, I had this naive hope that maybe the general public would just be apathetic to it and it wouldn't chart, or if it did it'd be patchy and marginal, mostly around the bottom half of the Hot 100, an album bomb but one that could be managed. Instead, over half the album landed in the top 40, so even when album bomb rules are applied I've got a sizable week to mostly talk about a project I have aggressive non-interest in - goddamn wonderful. And while I could very easily find seven related Bible passages to make my point again and call it a day... well, we'll have to see.

Monday, November 4, 2019

video review: 'city as school' by uncommon nasa & kount fif


Honestly, not a great project, but I still feel that I was expecting something different out of this and couldn't quite square away what we got. Eh, it happens.

Anyway, Earl is up next, along with (sigh) Billboard BREAKDOWN - stay tuned!

album review: 'city as school' by uncommon nasa & kount fif

So I've advertised this a bit on Twitter, but here we go: a full week ahead where my primary focus is underground hip-hop, and I'm excited for it - I've got a lot in my backlog, both in recent releases and acts who have waited too long, let's get into it!

And let's start with one of the projects for whom I actually haven't seen a ton of buzz: a new album from New York veteran Uncommon Nasa who built his career as an engineer within Def Jux in the 2000s, but who you might be more familiar with cutting a swathe through the underground this decade as both producer and rapper with a set of tangled, dense, but highly rewarding albums. He came onto many folks' radar with New York Telephone in 2014, but won me over convincingly with Halfway in 2015 and Written At Night in 2017, two of the best albums of their respective years, along with a pretty solid project in 2016 with Short Fuze called Autonomy Music that I'd argue holds up pretty damn well to this day. But you'd be forgiven for thinking that he's seemed a little quiet the past few years... and there's where I'd argue you might be misinformed, because not only did he release a collection of short stories and poetry in 2018, he also produced a pretty hard left-field project with Last Sons this year called Chekhov's Gun, which I also reviewed and it also kicked a lot of ass! But I knew it would only be a matter of time before Nasa got behind the mic again for another project, so on Halloween last week he released a project produced by Kount Fif and featured many of his regular collaborators, including Short Fuze, Guilty Simpson, Last Sons, and more. Seemed to be a pretty agreeable release for the underground, even if it seemed like the buzz was rather muted... but screw it, I wanted to cover it, so what did we get from City As School?

Sunday, November 3, 2019

video review: 'wildcard' by miranda lambert


Yeah, this is going to get messy... sorry y'all, I wanted to love this as much as you did, I am a fan... but I have to be honest too. 

Anyway, next up is a week full of underground hip-hop, so I'm starting with Uncommon Nasa - stay tuned!

album review: 'wildcard' by miranda lambert

When Miranda Lambert released The Weight Of These Wings in 2016, I can argue it simultaneously opened many doors, but also closed many as well. On the one hand it played like a magnum opus, a long, winding, dusty look through her deepest insecurities and pain given her recent divorce that you really only can get from a top caliber artist - hell, trim the fat on that project and you easily have one of the best of that year. But it was also decidedly uncommercial as a project, winning tons of critical acclaim but not landing much in the way of crossover success in the same way previous albums had. And as much as I'll stand up and say that Miranda Lambert was probably most comfortable near the indie scene anyway - especially given her work with the Pistol Annies, who made their triumphant and underappreciated return with Interstate Gospel last year - it was dispiriting to know that Nashville radio would probably wall up the door behind her and never let her see the same mainstream traction again. 

But that did mean Lambert would be able to effectively make whatever the hell she wanted, which meant that I wasn't surprised that big changes seemed to be coming with Wildcard. Not only was it her shortest album in over a decade, she had also ditched long-time producer Frank Liddell, bringing in Jay Joyce as his replacement... and I'll admit I immediately had mixed feelings, because Joyce's track record has been unbelievably hit-and-miss over the past several years, from highs with Brandy Clark and Eric Church to lows with Halestorm and, well, Eric Church. Yes, he's gotten better in recent years, but  he's not going to elevate a song where the writing isn't up to par... which is why I was so relieved to see a murderer's row of veteran writers behind Lambert, most pulled from the indie scene from Natalie Hemby and Lori McKenna to Brent Cobb and Jack Ingram. So okay, I'm excited, what did we get from Wildcard?

Thursday, October 31, 2019

video review: 'leaving meaning.' by swans


So this was... odd to talk about? Kind of wish I liked it a lot more, but it happens...

Next up is Miranda Lambert, so stay tuned!

album review: 'leaving meaning.' by swans

So what constitutes an artist's finale?

Because you can tell that's a question that's hung heavy on a lot of people, from an artist close to his deathbed to an act realizing they've got no more stories left to tell and must dissolve. Of course, in both cases if the artist goes on living or the band finds another burst of inspiration, said 'finale' can hit an odd note - not everyone can do what David Bowie did with Blackstar, after all, and you can tell with the themes and arcs of the last several Willie Nelson albums that he's expected his passing long before now. And I bring this up because the last time I reviewed Swans in 2016 with their massive album The Glowing Man, I was operating with the information that it would be their last album, especially given the thematic heft given to massive questions of God and the purpose of humanity. Turns out there was some truth to that, as mastermind Michael Gira said that it was their last album with anything close to a stable lineup, with the only returning and consistent member this time being lap steel guitar player Kristof Hahn and other former members and guests only brought on to realize specific moments on certain songs. And while with a title like leaving meaning. you can make the argument they are once again going for a finale vibe - which was what some of the hype was indicating - I was curious to put in the hours of time and really absorb this Swans album - so what did we get?

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #022 - 'labor days' by aesop rock (VIDEO)


And this kicks all amounts of ass too - yay!

Next up, I think I'm about ready for Swans, so stay tuned!

resonators 2019 - episode #022 - 'labor days' by aesop rock

So one observation I've made about Resonators this year is that I've wound up covering a lot of acts I would otherwise review on a regular basis, and this has led to a few notable observations for me. For one, it's a sign that underground hip-hop, despite its numerous flirtations with the mainstream, has maintained considerable longevity - and more to the point, most of the acts have been able to ride their careers into their second or even third decade of success while still maintaining a consistent or even fresh audience. Hell, in some cases the sound is consistent and timeless enough that to a predominantly older demo who gets into a more thorny, lyrical style, so long as the quality is consistent they'll stick around. And when you consider it's often not with major label support or "icon" status to build the huge cult following, that's extremely impressive.

And today we're going to be talking about one of the most respected names in this scene and one who has actually made a few of my year-end lists: New York MC Aesop Rock. Known for his phenomenal vocabulary and eclectic sense of storytelling, he got his start with university friend and producer in his own right Blockhead, and in the late 90s he self-financed a limited project Music For Earthworms, primarily promoted online through his own website and MP3.com, avenues for underground hip-hop that were in their infancy of being tapped. And after a quick EP, he won over enough traction to get signed to predominantly electronic music label Mush Records for 2000's album Float, which featured production both from him and Blockhead and a few notable guest stars, like Vast Aire of Cannibal Ox and Slug of Atmosphere. And yet I'm not discussing that project specifically, mostly because you can tell Aesop Rock was still refining his style, with his manic-depressive nasal delivery and content that still reflected some rough edges - still really damn good album, especially given its melodic focus and how damn quotable he's always been, but the hooks weren't all the way there, the vocal layering could feel a bit slapdash, and there's an overwritten sense of anxious panic that really can't sustain its hour-plus runtime, even if it did match the sharp criticisms of the system that left an entire class of people struggling to stay alive at the bottom; smart enough to know it, but seeing no easy way out. And thus when I discovered in 2001 he had a nervous breakdown... well, sad to say it didn't surprise me.

But regardless, he had also signed to El-P's label Def Jux, and on his next album he was looking to expand upon many of the themes he had introduced on Float, which would become to many his breakthrough: so yeah, it's here, today we're going to be talking about Aesop Rock's 2002 album Labor Days, and this is Resonators!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 2, 2019 (VIDEO)


Short, but workable... I've had to deal with worse.

Next up is Resonators, and ooh boy, I'm excited about this one - stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 2, 2019

...okay, look, they can't all be good weeks. And what's frustrating is that in a week with new cuts from both Frank Ocean and Selena Gomez, the larger story is our new #1, but at least it's short enough to go down quickly and the album bomb coming next week will probably disrupt enough to render this week irrelevant quickly - good riddance.

video review: 'FIBS' by anna meredith


Well, this was concentrated wonderful - Billboard BREAKDOWN up later tonight, enjoy!

album review: 'FIBS' by anna meredith

When I first covered Anna Meredith back in 2016, I had no idea what to expect. I had been in a bit of a dry spell when it came to album releases at that point in the year, and here comes a classical composer with a few associations with James Blake but rapidly making a strident name of her own with a project that seemed to win over every critic that heard it... and yeah, I was one of them. I still hold that project Varmints as damn near ground-breaking in its usage of morphing syncopation and groove with classical bombast and twisted electronics, and when you paired it with solid writing, it wound up as one of the best albums of that year.

And ever since then, it seemed like Meredith's trajectory accelerated: she provided the score for Bo Burnham's feature film Eighth Grade - which rightly deserved all the critical acclaim it got - and that same year she also released the project Anno, an extended interpolation of Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons suite that may have felt a little too beholden to the original composition to truly take off, but still wound up being pretty damn potent all the same. But with a new project of original material - and with the expectation that I'd probably be the only one covering her on this platform yet again - I really wanted to get ahead of this, so how was FIBS?

Monday, October 28, 2019

album review: 'JESUS IS KING' by kanye west (VIDEO)


I feel I should explain this.

I also feel I don't have to and that makes it more rewarding for those who know. Anyway, Anna Meredith and Billboard BREAKDOWN up next, stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

video review: 'there existed an addiction to blood' by clipping.


Well, this was a nasty, but pretty damn great listen. Hope you all enjoy the analysis - enjoy!

album review: 'there existed an addiction to blood' by clipping.

I've had the suspicion for a long time that there's a subsection of critics that just don't 'get' clipping. And on some level I do include myself, in that with every listen I've given to a clipping. album I'm almost positive that I'm missing some sort of larger detail that demands deeper examination, either in the noisy, experimental glitch of the production or Daveed Diggs' snarled, endlessly charismatic wordplay. More to the point, clipping. has not really stuck with any clear tradition or arc in hip-hop: their self-titled debut was as much of a ruthless parody of the brutality of the streets as its production still managed to generate some of the most experimental but accessible bangers of the decade. And yet after Daveed Diggs starred in Hamilton, you'd think the easy path would be to slightly more conventional hip-hop to capitalize on that success... so let's make Splendor & Misery, an even more convoluted and thorny hip-hop space opera in the tradition of Deltron 3030 that brought in elements of spoken word, icier textures, and even blues and southern gospel. 

And thus when I've seen the mixed critical reception to There Existed An Addiction To Blood, characterizing the album as horrorcore thanks to its title reference to the 1970s experimental horror film Ganja & Hess, which is a project exploring black vampirism as an extended metaphor for addiction, cultural assimilation, white imperialism, and religion, and considering in some cases you don't see any of those added depths even being discussed, you get the impression that a lot of folks have missed the point. Hell, you can make the argument that most haven't even bothered doing the research to articulate any point to begin with, but you should all know that's not how I make reviews, so here we go: what did we get from There Existed An Addiction To Blood?

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 26, 2019 (VIDEO)


Well, this was... actually pretty enjoyable to assemble, not a bad week and I expecting WAY worse.

Next up, clipping - stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 26, 2019

You know, it's probably good that I didn't predict this, it would have made the past week all the more dispiriting going into the last sort of album bomb I'd want to cover. And yet since he's barely on my radar, I'm not even sure I could have probably predicted the baffling success of a Youngboy Never Broke Again album release, and at this point I should really stop being surprised. And yet since he's one song short of my qualifications of an album bomb... yeah, talking about all of it, folks, strap in.

Monday, October 21, 2019

video reviews: 'after the fire' & 'the wanting' by cody jinks


Well this was... mildly disappointing? I wanted to be more over the moon for both of these albums, but I did see it coming, tbh.

Next up, what looks to be a rough Billboard BREAKDOWN and then clipping. - stay tuned!

album reviews: 'after the fire' & 'the wanting' by cody jinks

So I've gone back and forth so often on whether it's a good idea for artists to release more than one album a year, especially in relative close proximity. And normally the conclusion I've reached is, 'well, if they sound wildly different or they're aiming to do different things, then why the hell not'... but that let's be real, in today's streaming economy that is rarely the case so much as saturating the market, and even then it can be a dicey proposition.

And yeah, you can already tell that was my biggest concern going into these new albums from Cody Jinks, dropped a week apart and while had said that there were some incidental shifts in sound between the first and the second, I was still going in with the thought, 'if both discs aren't great, you probably could have just trimmed the fat and put out one of the best albums of your career'. And again, this is coming from a Cody Jinks fan who really loves Less Wise and 30 and really has come to love I'm Not The Devil as the melodic focus has only stuck with me more since 2016... but who also knew that Lifers felt more like a misstep with every listen, especially on production, and if those kinks hadn't been ironed out, throwing two albums of material could be a really big risk, especially as he's still independent and would be relying most on word-of-mouth and organic groundswell instead of label promotion. But hey, how did After The Fire and The Wanting turn out?

Saturday, October 19, 2019

video review: 'in the morse code of brake lights' by the new pornographers


Well, this was... a little underwhelming and I wish it was better, but it happens. Next up, I've got a two part project from Cody Jinks, so stay tuned!

album review: 'in the morse code of brake lights' by the new pornographers

So here's a fun question: how much do people consider The New Pornographers these days?

I'd argue it's relevant, as past and present solo members like Neko Case and Dan Bejar as Destroyer have charted critically acclaimed territory in recent years that many could argue outstrips the band's original run of insane quality in the first half of the 2000s. And while I look back on projects like Brill Bruisers and Whiteout Conditions this decade with a lot of fondness, it's more for snippets of anthemic brilliance rather than a consistently strong but never quite transcendent whole. And it's not even that this supergroup feels like a 'hangout project' or anything like that for prodigious talents to bounce ideas off each other - especially in recent years, a lot of A.C. Newman's writing has a sense of urgency that keeps things driving with more momentum and outright anxiety than you normally see for acts twenty years into their careers. Maybe it's the political subtext lurking just out of frame, maybe it's middle age... either way, it has led to some phenomenal songs, and while Dan Bejar only contributes cowriting credits to a single song here, I've always thought The New Pornographers can knock at least a few songs out of the park, so what did we get from In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights?

Thursday, October 17, 2019

video review: 'METAL GALAXY' by BABYMETAL


Yeah, this one is going to piss folks off... eh, such is life. Anyway, either Elbow or the New Pornographers next, stay tuned!

album review: 'METAL GALAXY' by BABYMETAL

So I'll be very honest: I find it really hard to gauge how much cultural weight BABYMETAL have. Part of this comes from the very real distance I have from j-pop as a genre, but part of it is also linked to the lingering feeling that despite BABYMETAL's easily recognized brand, I'm not sure how many people outside the cult fanbase have embraced more than just the meme of their existence.

And if all of that seems unfair... well, yeah, it completely is, and this is speaking as someone who liked both of BABYMETAL's previous albums beyond the meme. I've always been convinced that a metal sound can work with a pop-context, and on Metal Resistance the group might not have surprised audiences in the same way with a little more care and restraint in their genre fusion, but the songs were tighter and better composed, and while the project was transitional, it also reflected the core of a pretty decent power metal band at their core. And sure, all of it was a little ridiculous, but I hoped as the girls at the core grew up and stayed with the genre while maintaining enough of a pop touch, they could play in the same territory an act like Poppy is exploring so much now. So even with the departure of Yuimetal, one of their lead singers, I really wanted to like Metal Galaxy - did they deliver?

trailing edge - episode 015 - july-september 2019 (VIDEO)


Way too late, but it happens. Happy to have it out, all the same.

Anyway, next up is BABYMETAL - stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

the top ten worst hit songs of 2011 (VIDEO)


Can't believe I nearly forgot to post this mess... enjoy!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 19, 2019

I did not expect this week to be that tumultuous. Granted, a major part of this comes from the minor album bomb courtesy of Summer Walker - which is just under the cutoff which means I'll be covering every entry in detail, which I don't mind given my curiosity into all the hype there - but there was a surprising amount of movement on the Hot 100, which makes for the sort of busy week that I'm actually intrigued to cover... so yeah, strap in, there's a lot here!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

the top ten worst hit songs of 2011

So something every music critic loves to do is craft a 'narrative' surrounding the sound of a specific year, especially with the benefit of hindsight allowing one to track trends or make predictions of what was to come, write a little history along the way.

2011 is not one of those years where that comes easily. On the surface you could make the argument this is where the club boom hit over-saturation and began collapsing in upon itself, with the success stories this year telling what was to come. But while this year would foretell the success of some individual acts and trends - you can argue the popular seeds of bro-country were planted this year, as was Adele's decade-long run and a fondness for retro tones that would eventually be co-opted by artists looking for identity outside their own - hi, Bruno Mars, who got his major push this year - it also feels weirdly ossified in time. For one, 2011 was a year of massive pop diva competition, where most would see their careers fly in wildly different directions by the decade's end or implode entirely. You could argue that 2011 was also the year of Young Money as Lil Wayne, Drake, and Nicki Minaj began notching consistent crossover success... and many could argue that was a mixed blessing at best. And that's not even counting the string of acts that would achieve chart success in 2011 and little else - and what's bizarre is that they weren't part of any one consistent trend or level of quality, which means even in hindsight you can't really draw clear predictions on where anyone was going to go. And here's the strangest thing: for the most part that diversity played to the year's strengths, and wound up just having less bad hits than many years ahead - years like 2013 and 2017 might have hit greater heights, but they also had far deeper lows. Like with 2012, most of the bad stuff in 2011 was more annoying and badly made than offensive, but unlike that year it was a struggle for me to even pin down the worst of what we got... but I did pull something together anyway. You all know the rules, the songs had to debut on this year-end Hot 100 chart, so let's untangle the worst of this messy year, starting with...