Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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...

video review: 'a boat on the sea' by moron police


And this was pretty damn special - huge thanks to Crash Thompson for pushing this out the door to me.

But now for a top ten on the docket... stay tuned!

Friday, October 11, 2019

album review: 'a boat on the sea' by moron police

I think the general reaction from everyone who has heard this has been, 'Where the hell did this come from' - closely followed by 'Wait, those guys? Are you serious?!'

And that's a fair reaction here - for those of you who recognize the name Moron Police at all, you probably know them more for some Norwegian progressive metal that was more in the comedy scene... a scene I don't normally touch as a rule, because comedy music is incredibly subjective and I have strange tastes in comedy. And going back to Moron Police's first two albums... well, their debut had promise and showed a band who could split progressive heaviness with real hooks and some wit, but it seemed to curdle on their second album Defenders of the Small Yard into something darker with an odd, unpleasant sourness to it - this is a band that released a single called 'T-Bag Your Grandma', that should give you a rough idea where the humour was going. Coupled with a math rock side that was very much not my thing, after going through those first two albums in preparation for this one, I seriously questioned would it all be worth it... but those people who have heard A Boat On The Sea have not stopped raving about it and the recommendations only stepped up after my Tool review where I professed I liked my progressive rock and metal to have more melody. So with all of that mind, what is A Boat On The Sea?

Thursday, October 10, 2019

video review: 'all mirrors' by angel olsen


Yeah, this one was tough... really wanted to love this album too, I really did, but it just didn't pan out. Eh, it happens.

Anyway, next up is an album that absolutely panned out and that I'm really excited to talk about, so stay tuned!

album review: 'all mirrors' by angel olsen

It feels like I've been struggling to get onboard with Angel Olsen for years now.

And what's frustrating is that it always feels like there's just one or two elements that get in the way of things really clicking. She's a terrific singer, but sometimes she's stuck with production that doesn't flatter her unique timbre or style. The production can often swell with portentous presence and purpose... and wind up dragging if the climax doesn't connect. She's a strong songwriter, but I often run into quibbles of nuance and framing that just don't pay off as strongly as I hoped. And all of this is surrounded by the fact that in the lo-fi, alternative country-adjacent scene, she is surrounded by acts that might not have her unique pipes but can stick the landing a little more strongly.

But there were two things that prompted me to check this album out anyway, the first being that in 2017, she teamed up with Alex Cameron for the song 'Stranger's Kiss', which showed that with a potent groove beneath her and some punchy synths she could ride an absolutely terrific song, one of the best of that year. And I kept thinking about that song when for #2, I heard that her newest album All Mirrors was not just going to be a pivot towards baroque pop with huge, lush string arrangements, but also an embrace of synthesizers. Which... alright, I didn't love how she utilized them on MY WOMAN but maybe there'd be a little more focus and clarity this time, especially given how much the music press has slung critical acclaim at her this year - although given the recent avalanche of critical acclaim at baroque pop acts spanning from Lana Del Rey to Julia Holter to Weyes Blood in the past year, I do take that with a grain of salt. But fine, I still really wanted to like this, so what did we get with All Mirrors?

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

video review: 'uknowhatimsayin¿' by danny brown


Yeah, really wanted to love this one... shame I don't, but it's not bad all the same...

Anyway, next up I think I'm going to tackle Angel Olsen next - stay tuned!

album review: 'uknowhatimsayin¿' by danny brown

In his series Whatever Happened To Alternative Nation, music critic Steven Hyden once identified Alice In Chains' sophomore album Dirt as a 'unrelentingly grim collection of songs about how people should never, ever shoot heroin' - and he's not wrong. That album, for as potent as it is, might be one of the most nightmarish grunge albums ever made that describes that form of drug addiction in utterly harrowing terms... and in 2016, Danny Brown followed in that tradition with Atrocity Exhibition. His previous two projects may have reinforced the garish juxtaposition between how much escapist fun drugs could be opposite the grimy, poverty-stricken life he was trying to escape, but Atrocity Exhibition went further, embracing a howling nightmare of experimental production and wild delivery that was looking to drag you into the roots of how horrifying addiction and the underlying depression could be. It's not an album I precisely love - tonally it's all over the place and not all the experimentation in production sticks the landing - but there hasn't really been anything like it in the 2010s in hip-hop, and it absolutely set a new high water mark for Danny Brown as a rapper and artist - I'd never really been a huge fan before, but Atrocity Exhibition definitely brought me on-board in a big way.

Flash forward to 2019, and Danny Brown seems to be in a very different place: he's older, a little more restrained and cleaned-up, he's got a pretty good show on VICELAND that might have its weird moments but isn't really embracing the shock in the same way his albums have. And thus I didn't really expect him to go further down the rabbit hole for his new project uknowhatimsayin¿ - sure, names like JPEGMAFIA and Run The Jewels and Thundercat and Blood Orange attached to production did suggest this was going to be weird, but likely a more controlled, focused brand of weird. Still, I was fascinated to see where Danny Brown would land, and it was hard to not be excited about that set of collaborators, so what did we get with uknowhatimsayin¿?

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 12, 2019 (VIDEO)


Well, that was a bit quicker to get online than I otherwise expected. Short week, y'all.

Anyway, next up is Danny Brown, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 12, 2019

So last week I said that I expected an album bomb from DaBaby - I did not expect one of this size, I'll admit that! Yeah, while the majority of it fell below the top 40, all of DaBaby's KIRK hit the Hot 100 this week, and given that's comfortably over eight new songs, the album bomb rules are in effect. Shame it's about the only thing interesting to happen to the Hot 100 this week, but since I wasn't really planning to review the album at length, this'll give me a good opportunity to get caught up, I guess.

Monday, October 7, 2019

video review: 'ghosteen' by nick cave & the bad seeds


And here we are. First big review of the week, and man, this was a beauty to get through...

Anyway, up next is Billboard BREAKDOWN, and then Danny Brown - stay tuned!

album review: 'ghosteen' by nick cave & the bad seeds

I had a surprising amount of trepidation approaching this album.

And I feel it's important to admit that before going in because if you know my history surrounding Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, you might find that surprising. This is an act I can convincingly argue has made some of the best albums of the past forty years spanning a half dozen different genres, fiercely literate but not at the expense of striking melodies and dynamic performances. I still hold they have at least two bonafide 10/10 classic albums, the first being 1990's The Good Son, the latter you all should know as 2016's Skeleton Tree, which very nearly was my top album of that year if it wasn't for Dave Cobb's country compilation masterpiece Southern Family. But for a project that wracked with grief, both in the passing of his son and an exploration of the failure of narrative and art to encapsulate it... how in the Nine Hells do you follow it?

Well, this takes us to Ghosteen, the new double album that was promising to lean even further into the fractured electronic and ambient textures that have coloured his work in the 2010s, and could very well be even more touched by grief - many people forget that much of his work on Skeleton Tree was written before his son's tragic passing in 2015. And thus I was preparing for the sort of overwhelming emotional experience that was listening to Skeleton Tree, an album I can rarely listen to in public... but I also knew the odds of replicating such an experience was impossibly steep, so I was preparing for a project just a little less than what we got in 2016, especially across a double album that many were saying was even more spare and abstract in its poetry. So okay, what did Ghosteen bring?

Friday, October 4, 2019

video review: 'hey, i'm just like you' by tegan and sara


Really welcome surprise with this one - really happy it came together, definitely check this out!

Next up... hmm, I want to knock something off my backlog that I've been liking for some time, so stay tuned!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

album review: 'hey, i'm just like you' by tegan and sara

So I'll admit this was a swerve I didn't expect from Tegan and Sara. When this duo went outright synthpop on Heartthrob in 2013 and followed it up with Love You To Death three years later, I assumed their path had been set, especially given how much crossover success they found in the mean time. Sure, some of the diehard rock set were a little alienated by the pivot, but it seemed like a lot of them were more forgiving in the end, especially if they remembered how they started very early in their career with songs that flirted with pop structures.

But I won't deny that I was among the people who were both surprised and a little encouraged that the duo was going to bring back their electric guitars for their newest project Hey, I'm Just Like You. More to the point, it would be revisiting and tweaking many cuts they had written or cut as demos in their teenage years but given the benefit of twenty years in the industry, a little more refinement. And to me this seemed like a fascinating but smart choice: I've long held the opinion that their pop pivot did wonders for tightening up their writing and easing the strained stabs at indie rock obliqueness that left me more frustrated with their work in the 2000s than I'd normally like to admit. Now granted, I had no idea how this would translate to 2019 - going back to So Jealous and The Con, those are two records with structures and tones that are inextricably linked to the 2000s, and a quick relisten to both projects reminded me precisely how hit-and-miss they could be, especially on the more twee side - but I did see the potential, so what did we get on Hey, I'm Just Like You?

video review: 'heartache medication' by jon pardi


Huh, I honestly thought this would attract more interest... eh, makes my plans for 2020 all the more valid, I guess.

Anyway, I feel like some jaunty pop rock, so Tegan and Sara are next; stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

album review: 'heartache medication' by jon pardi

Okay, I'll just say it: in my reviews of Jon Pardi up to this point, the majority of the problem is me.

And this is one of those utterly exasperating issues as a music critic where yes, to the mainstream Nashville listener Pardi represents a sound that is entirely up my alley and should be getting all the praise in the world in the current subset of neotraditional revivalists we're seeing, especially in his choice of production. And I can see on the surface how Jon Pardi basically answers all of my major complaints about the corporate, pop-pandering side of Nashville by delivering a rich, vintage timbre that could have been imported straight from the early 90s... and yet I've been lukewarm on him at best, right from when I covered his debut in 2014. Don't get me wrong, I like that his success is nudging Nashville in that organic, neotraditional direction, but between never quite liking his vocal timbre and songwriting that just feels a bit underwhelming - plus the wealth of indie country acts that just do this sort of sound better - I know how it makes me come across like a country music hipster not getting onboard, even though I'd argue that just because you have a neotraditional sound doesn't mean the delivery or songs hold up. And while the country music hipster part is probably true, I actually did have some hope that with his mainstream niche firmly established he'd be able to double down and not have to rely on consistently his most generic songs as singles, so I really did want to like what he was going to deliver with Heartache Medication - it really did seem like Jon Pardi was going in the right direction, so did his album deliver?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 5, 2019 (VIDEO)


Bit of a slow episode, but it happens. Hope you all enjoy it, regardless!

video review: 'hot motion' by temples


And here we go - a little disappointed with this one as a whole, but we'll see if maybe a few moments linger.

Next up, I'm feeling like some country, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 5, 2019

The prediction I made last week was that this week would be relatively quiet - I was not expecting it to be this quiet. Sure, next week could well see a small album bomb from DaBaby or maybe a smattering of Kevin Gates, but this week? Yeah, one of the fewest numbers of new arrivals I've seen in 2019... and yet I'm not really all that thrilled about it, given that the current Hot 100 feels kind of shaky to mediocre on average, and I'm not seeing what's going to make it better.

album review: 'hot motion' by temples

You know, this is the third time I've reviewed a Temples album and had the feeling that either everyone else is missing something in the experience... or it's just me and I'm maybe putting a band on a pedestal that doesn't belong there.

And that's a pretty rare thing for me - normally I'm confident when I praise an album I can point to exactly everything that works so damn well, and I'd like to say the same thing about Temples... but it feels a little less tangible with this band, especially as I've come down pretty heavily on blatant retro throwbacks with oblique lyrics before. Normally my answer has been, 'well, the compositions are so remarkably catchy and hook-driven to match a well-produced mix and underrated songwriting, that has to be it'... but outside of specific songs I don't tend to revisit Temples albums in the same way I do other acts I've praised to hell and back... until I put together end of the year lists and enjoy them back to front all over again! And while a bunch of musicians tend to agree with assessments of this band, a lot of critics don't - pretty consistently too, especially coming on their pop pivot with Volcano in 2017 that I loved just as much as their 2014 debut. So yes, I was setting myself up to adore this album and probably make many of the same defenses, even if this time it looked like critical reception was harsher than ever, but screw that: how was Hot Motion?

video review: 'SOUND & FURY' by sturgill simpson


You know, I kept thinking I'd get more backlash to this one... eh, we'll have to see whether it firmly kills as much of Sturgill's career as he's clearly trying.

Anyway, next up is Temples, but probably first some Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

resonators 2019 - episode #021 - 'black on both sides' by mos def (VIDEO)


Honestly a bit surprised I managed to get this out on time... but hey, it's a great album, happy to talk about it. Enjoy!

Monday, September 30, 2019

album review: 'SOUND & FURY' by sturgill simpson

I think at this point it doesn't make sense to have expectations for what Sturgill Simpson makes. Sure, I was drawn most initially to his experimentation in country music, where he would stick with that foundational sound before pushing into psychedelia or the Muscle Shoals sound or even alternative or southern rock, but everything he has done in recent years has suggested he'd never stay there, and more to the point was not particularly interested in chasing the easy follow-up. He could have easily remained a stalwart in indie country just by retracing the same paths of Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, but A Sailor's Guide To Earth was not that. And in his writing especially while his primary reference points in composition seem to have roots in country, his time stationed in Asia sparked a fondness for anime, and that's not even touching on his politics, which are generally left of the dial and aren't that far removed from conspiracy theory territory.

And I bring all of this up because while he won a Grammy for A Sailor's Guide to Earth, his contempt and general disinterest in the machinations of the music industry meant that regardless of what his label might want, he was going to make music with little care for marketing or even genre, let alone the possibility of radio play - yes, Nashville was never going to play him anyway, but it seemed like he was going out of his way to give them excuses. So when I heard that SOUND & FURY was less indie country and more a curdled blend of fiery southern rock and 80s synth rock... well, it's not like I haven't seen misfires like this before, but Simpson is a great enough writer and producer to stick the landing, and that's not even getting into that anime film he released along side of it which as per usual I'm not going to cover - the album has to stand alone. So okay, what did we get with SOUND & FURY?

resonators 2019 - episode #021 - 'black on both sides' by mos def

You know, one thing I've struggled with on this series is the question of mystique, especially as it's the sort of thing that's tough to contextualize outside of the explicit moment in which it's felt, and it's a feeling that has persisted with certain acts for far longer than you'd expect. And you can argue there are acts who came and went so quickly with projects that seemed so transcendent that the legacy sticks for years or even decades - hell, Jay Electronica has kept hype alive on the potential of a project for over a decade now!

But if you're removed from the time, if you weren't there... well, it's complicated, because you're trying to contextualize a moment and capture its significance, but also be realistic on how the art's impact has persisted, how much of that luster remains. And I can't think of many living rappers who have captured that sort of mystique to hold it for so long as Yasiin Bey, who twenty years ago was known as Mos Def. Now we've already talked about Mos Def in this series thanks to his landmark breakthrough with Talib Kweli in Black Star, but in the process both artists were building towards solo debuts of their own on Rawkus, Talib's dropping in 2000 under his duo name Reflection Eternal with producer Hi-Tek to critical acclaim. But Mos Def had gotten ahead the year earlier winning the sort of critical acclaim that would allow weaker projects like The New Danger and True Magic to skate by before The Ecstatic would drop in 2009 to win back fans and critics... the last full, commercially released album we would get under his name Mos Def. But you can trace his mystique back to that debut album, how it left such a mark, widely hailed as one of the best hip-hop albums of the late 90s to be released... so let's not waste any more time, this is Black On Both Sides by Mos Def, and this is Resonators!

Friday, September 27, 2019

video review: 'all my heroes are cornballs' by JPEGMAFIA


Hey, at least it's less overdue than last time?

Whatever, it's still really good and worth your time. Next up... see, a lot of projects dropped, but I have no idea what I feel like covering given how underwhelmed I feel about that new Chelsea Wolfe. So it might be Resonators coming soon, or perhaps a review - stay tuned!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

album review: 'all my heroes are cornballs' by JPEGMAFIA

I don't think JPEGMAFIA is interested in making this easy.

See, if he was he probably would have followed his controversial breakthrough Black Ben Carson by leaning into the politically charged, internet-rooted aggression and commentary that shocked so many people, especially given how well it was balanced with some real self-reflection... but that's not really what his 2018 follow-up Veteran was. Oh, the commentary was mostly there but sliced to ribbons along the way, showing an increasingly fragmented, almost stream-of-consciousness approach to his bars and production that was certainly experimental, but didn't quite pack the same impact for me as the more tightly composed moments. Certainly inventive and challenging and any insight I was able to glean did stick in my memory... but even being late to the party by over the year, I found myself wishing that I liked it a lot more than I did.

And thus when I heard that All My Heroes Are Cornballs was continuing down a similar rabbit hole, with JPEGMAFIA seemingly very much aware that his new album might disappoint fans looking for more the provocation even as the buzz suggested he was looking to embrace more melody and singing... hell, I was at the very least intrigued, so I figured I'd be a little more on the ball with this and dig into the project. So what did JPEGMAFIA pull out here?

video review: 'the owl' by zac brown band


Yeah, this sucked... but to be fair, pretty much all the critics and fans are saying it too, so preaching to the choir, I guess?

Anyway, I think it's about time I get to JPEGMAFIA, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

album review: 'the owl' by zac brown band

When you think of the Zac Brown Band, what do you think of?

Mostly likely you think of the band responsible for songs like 'Chicken Fried' or 'Toes' or 'Knee Deep', lightweight, relaxing fodder that has a bit of a jam band vibe but a lot of rich, warm harmonies and colour. If you're more of a fan you probably remember songs like 'Goodbye In Her Eyes' and 'Colder Weather' and how the band has always had an underrated strength for ballads, or even how their 2012 album Uncaged took a willingness to experiment into one of the best mainstream country albums of the decade. 

If you're deeper in the country scene, however, especially recently, you might know the Zac Brown Band a little differently. You might know that frontman Zac Brown has been chafing at what he might view as the arbitrary restrictions of country - seemingly unaware of how the indie scene has been plumbing new depths and sounds every single year, which you'd think he'd know given his collaboration with Dave Cobb in 2016, but that's a different story. You might have heard that the same year he put out a back to basics album Welcome Home produced by Dave Cobb, he also made an EDM-folktronica... thing called Sir Rosevelt near the end of that year... which wound up being universally panned by anyone who knows electronic music as dated, badly produced, and while having catchy moments feeling more than ever like a vanity project. And that's what we were hoping would remain the case for the Zac Brown Band, especially after their dabblings with electronic music on 2015's Jekyll + Hyde, which for the record did see some success, but nowhere near consistent enough to sustain a full project - so if Zac Brown had a side project to shove that sound into, all fine and good.

What nobody was suspecting was The Owl, a project where it appeared that Zac Brown was doubling down on the electronics and pop flourishes to the shock and alienation of all of their country fans - and let me make this clear, the buzz has been horrible for this album. Even mainstream critics are not giving this a pass, so as one of the few guys who can defend pieces of Zac Brown's electronic forays, I wanted to give this a chance... so what did The Owl deliver?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 28, 2019 (VIDEO)


So yeah, this was better - but next up, ugh, it's not good... stay tuned?

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

video review: 'sunshine kitty' by tove lo


Oh boy, this was a pretty sizable disappointment... but trust me when I say I've got something much worse in the wings - stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 28, 2019

These are the album bomb weeks I always tend to find a bit perplexing... because the fuse seems "delayed", for lack of better words. Post Malone may have cut a swathe across the Hot 100, but like with other huge album bombs, many of his songs didn't crash out that hard, which meant that many other songs didn't rebound as big as you'd expect. All of this translates to a relatively mild week for me, and while I'm not complaining, I can't help but feel I'm waiting for the next shoe to drop.

album review: 'sunshine kitty' by tove lo

At this point, I'm a little mystified why I'm as eager as I am to look up a new Tove Lo album. 

Seriously, there are other projects that would normally be higher on my list - it's not like I don't have catch-up projects from last week and Tove Lo isn't even the biggest story coming out of this week of releases, be it Blink-182 somehow impressing the longtime fans or the Zac Brown Band delivering an outright catastrophe. And yet my thoughts kept coming back to the fact that of the mainstream and mainstream-adjacent pop acts this decade, she's been among the most ambitious, working to structure narrative-driven concept albums that actually can have some lyrical nuance at their best - I'm not about to forget her closer track 'hey you got drugs?' from her last album Blue Lips that somehow wound up as one of my favourite songs of 2017. But then I remember how damn inconsistent her production is, and how there have been tracts of her albums that feel like they're reaching for more insight than they actually deliver, or how thematically much of her first three albums have been retracing the same burned-out arc, or how she dove so deeply into selling sexuality that it almost has reached parody. I mean, credit to her for owning it as much as she has, but when your albums as of late have been titled Lady Wood, Blue Lips, and Sunshine Kitty, the double entendres are getting played out. But regardless, the reviews seem... well, as inconsistent as ever for her, but I was curious, so what did we get from Sunshine Kitty?

Thursday, September 19, 2019

video review: 'miami memory' by alex cameron


Yeah, can't say I'm not a little underwhelmed, but it is still good.

Next up... yep, it's Peggy - stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

album review: 'miami memory' by alex cameron

It's funny, I saw a tweet a couple days ago by someone who had been watching my past couple reviews, specifically those of the Highwomen and Rapsody, and who remarked that given my current upcoming slate of projects to cover, the discussions of feminism and toxic masculinity were going to surge to the forefront yet again. And to do any of my upcoming reviews properly - given my current docket includes JPEGMAFIA and Chelsea Wolfe and Jenny Hval and eventually I'll get to Tropical Fuck Storm - the political discourse is inevitable.

Now granted, I'm not going to deny it can be dense or draining or frustrating - I've seen the subscriber drop-off after certain, more political reviews, so I get it, especially given that I don't tend to be as funny as your average critic who can lean into the memes and wittiness alongside my analysis. But hey, this could be a good test, given how the artist himself has always embraced some of the parodic side of his work: Alex Cameron! I'll be honest, the fact that his cult following has inflated the way it has is a real treat to see - I was kind of lukewarm on his debut but by the time I got to Forced Witness a few months late, I was astounded how much wit, melodic flair, and dissection of "traditional masculinity" was wedged into his retro 80s pop rock sound. I still that album as an absolute delight and one of the sleeper best of 2017 - and in retrospect, it's only grown on me since. And I'll admit a certain wry fascination with Alex Cameron: his shambling theatricality, his blend of pop sounds and willingness to embrace satire that most guys will never have the balls to seize, all with a real earnest intensity that I have to respect, to the point where it should surprise nobody he's dating Jemima Kirke, who you might recognize as Jessa from HBO's Girls! So for me to say that I was excited for Miami Memory was an understatement, even if he had a tough project to follow - so what did we get?